Kendra Krueger (MElEngr’11) is an engineer by training, but she had to come up with her own title to encompass all of her passions in science, education, philosophy and art.
She landed on “intersectional scientist” – someone who’s interested in how science can be a tool for personal discovery and liberation. Today, she combines those passions as a science education coordinator at City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center and as the founder of 4Love and Science, her own project in “mindful scientific research and innovation for the good of the people.”
Paths to explore
Krueger’s own path in STEM started with a program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. As a drama major at LaGuardia High School for Art and the Performing Arts – made famous by the movie Fame – she was looking for something different to do in the summer.
As the museum research program led them through different topics, she was quickly drawn to the scope of astrophysics and astronomy. But she also wanted to find a way to work with her hands and build things.
“I learned that you could make the telescopes and make these instruments. So I got really into this idea of helping to make radio telescopes,” Krueger said. “I wanted to be building the tools behind the science. I wanted to be making these things but still be involved in the physics and science world.”
After high school, she studied electrical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, including an internship at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico. Along the way, she took a course in microelectronics and semiconductor physics, which sent her on a new path.
“There was also something really philosophical about it that spoke to me, this transfer of energy between these little beings and how they exist in these different states and can be manipulated in different ways to be at these different states,” she said. “It reminded me of different states of consciousness.”
Facing a stagnant job market when she graduated in 2009, Krueger decided to continue on for a master’s degree. She decided to pay CU Boulder Professor Garret Moddel a visit after a reading about his interests in everything from zero-point energy to psi phenomena.
“We had a huge philosophical conversation about science and engineering and all these other things,” she said. “So all the pieces sort of came together to come into the nanostructures program.”
A new narrative
As a master’s student, Kruger worked in Moddel’s lab fabricating and characterizing graphene geometric diodes for rectenna solar cells, as well as on a project in nanotechnology ethics. As she dug deeper into the ethics topic, she found it didn’t quite fit with the questions she’d begun to explore.
“The problem with ethics is that people tie the word ‘ethics’ to safety and fraud and practices in science,” she said. “Whereas I was more looking at the philosophical aspects of what is this technology and how is it really influencing society?”
While cementing her skills and confidence as an engineer at a job with PixelTeq in Golden, she was pulled to both her acting roots and her science/society questioning while participating in a friend’s MFA project at Naropa University. Through the play, which explored mindfulness, somatic movement and self-discovery, Krueger found herself thinking of the process of scientific discovery.
“I realized that self-discovery is the same process as doing science in the external world – making observations and creating hypotheses that try things out and experimenting. We do the same thing in our internal world, too,” she said. “It occurred to me, why are these things so separated? Is there a way that we can learn to do them together – to create a scientific practice that is not only about learning about our external world but also learning about our internal world simultaneously?”
Krueger’s exploration came as a deeper conversations about diversity and equity in STEM were taking root in the wider science community.
“As we're learning now, in terms of how bias affects the work that's created, as much as we want science and engineering and technology to be neutral, it's created by humans,” she said. “It's never going to be fully neutral, and that's OK. It's just that we have to acknowledge the ways that we do influence it with our bias, with our background, with our experiences, with our dreams, with our desires, with our passion and our joy.”
Today, Krueger has been able to combine many of her skills as a science educator, developing field trips and programs for kids. She is most excited about their new Community Sensor Lab, which she developed in partnership with an environmental scientist who creates do-it-yourself sensors for monitoring carbon dioxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.
“We developed a whole curriculum to learn about the sensors and environmental justice and why these low-cost sensors are so powerful in the hands of people,” she said. “As we developed it and did a pilot program with the high school students, we realized the power of the technology and the impact that it could have in our local communities right away.”
For example, part of their program will include teaching people to install, monitor and train others to work with sensors in community gardens throughout the Lower East Side, where a community-designed project to create green space in areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy was scrapped in favor of a sea wall. The sensors will allow the community to independently monitor the effects of construction, while also giving people skills they can use to pursue available training programs as lab technicians.
Krueger said she feels lucky to be at a place that is pushing the boundaries of interdisciplinary science and community education, though she can’t answer now what the future holds for her own explorations.
“I've learned that I need, at least for my life, a lot more flexibility with where the future takes me and have smaller goals,” she said. “But having good working relationships is really important to me – creating more collaborations, always more collaborations.”