Kelly Knight
Dr. Kelly J Knight
Engineering Manager, Bechtel National, Inc.
Reston, VA

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Close Up
  • Describe what you do in your current work situation.
    I use computers to simulate fluid flow, heat transfer and mixing. I work for a construction company and sometimes we build things that are very complex. Because they are complex we need to model the objects in a computer to see what will happen when we actually build it. An example is when we model the fluid flow through all of the pipes that you see at oil or gas refineries. Another example is to model the flow of the water in the locks in the new Panama Canal. These are so big that we need to model them first to make sure that they work before actually building them.
  • Why did you choose engineering?
    I like to see how math makes our world a better place. Engineering is applying math to problems to find solutions. Engineering is applying an abstract idea into a real physical solution, like a car, a bridge or a house. I want to be the person who takes math and makes it into something that helps people and our different societies all over the world.
  • Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    I attended Ogden High School in Ogden, UT. I earned my Bachelor of Science at Weber State Univ in Ogden, UT. I then earned a Master of Science and a PhD degree at the Univ of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT. You don't have to go the big schools to get an excellent education and make a real contribution to your own life and to society.
  • What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
    I work at a computer most of the day doing simulations. I show my results to a customer to make sure that I am doing what they want. I enjoy making the presentations and presenting my information to others. I also participate in testing fluids and get to go outside and test big sized objects. An example is a pulse jet mixer. This vessel is 40 ft high and 34 feet in diameter. It is huge! We get to blow the liquids around in that vessel at high speeds and it is really fun and you learn so much. Because my company is worldwide, I get to travel to meet customers and look at the construction so that I know how to model it in my computer. And always, lots of solving of math and understanding what the math is showing you in the real world.
  • What do you like best about being an engineer?
    I enjoy taking math and turning it into a bridge or a tunnel. Math is hard, frustrating, abstract and very beautiful and enlightening. I like the reward I get inside myself from solving a hard problem and seeing how it makes the design better or more safe. Engineering shows you how to balance man-made structures with nature. Engineering teaches you how to fix things or make them work. Once you understand engineering then you become good at problem solving in your personal life too. Engineering contributes in a positive way to people and society. I want to know that I earn money by doing a job that contributes to the good of others.
  • Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
    I received my PhD when I was 40. I was able to get approval to purchase our first 100 core computing cluster for simulations. I get better and better each year at not only working hard but working smarter.
  • What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
    It was hard to pay for my own schooling, plan my future without the help of parents or counselors and then in graduate school find advisors who had funding. It was very hard to work and go to school at the same time. Going back to school after being 7 years away from it was hard. I was not as fast or as astute as I was years earlier. I had to work harder for the A and learn to live with a B or a C (I used to be a straight A student). I had to convince myself that I could still be an asset to any company even though I did not have the highest grades.
  • Please tell us a little about your family.
    I came from a poor family and was on welfare for many years. I did not live in good neighborhoods and sometimes lived in motels. We traveled a lot and so I went to many different schools. I had little support from my family in any aspect of my life.
  • What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
    Short term - I am in my first Project Management role on a particular testing program. I want to stay with this program until the finish to be able to own it's successes and failures. Long term - I want to become one of the vice presidents of the company.
  • What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
    My grandfather only had an 8th grade education but he still loved to learn. He and I discussed EVERYTHING. He was a very loving man so besides his love for knowledge, he loved people and nature. He was a very hard worker. I have an older sister who also loved to learn. She taught me common sense and savvy. She is a very hard worker. A friend also taught me how to make life full of wonderful things to do and to not get stuck sitting around at home. Another friend taught me to accept my accomplishments and to accept praise from others.
  • What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
    I have very seldom encountered sexism on my way through school even though I worked with nearly 99% men all of the time. I chose my advisors and study companions well so that I was almost always treated as an equal. In what ever you do in life pay attention to the up front preparation. Put yourself in a place to succeed and seek out those who will help you along. Fortune favors the prepared. Engineering is hard but rewarding. I always went the extra mile on homework and now for my job. People will tell you to just do enough. I have found that I have experienced more and had more opportunities because I was more prepared.
  • Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    I always went the extra mile on homework and now for my job. People will tell you to just do enough. I have found that I have experienced more and had more opportunities because I was more prepared.
  • Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
    I enjoy traveling to see new sites and meet new people, movies, the Discovery, Science and Learning Channels, quilting, the Wii and of course, Harry Potter (what will we all do now that the series is done?)
Biography
Kelly J Knight is the Manager of Bechtel’s Advanced Simulation and Analysis. She is responsible for managing multiple specialists in the fields of computational fluid dynamics, computational structural mechanics and advanced engineering visualization techniques. Kelly’s background experience includes design studies/analyses, computing infrastructure, experiments and conducting surveys/reviews in support of Bechtel projects and outside clients. Kelly’s field of expertise is in fluid dynamics, heat transfer, experimental methods, numerical analysis, turbulent mixing applications, chemical/biological dispersion and technical writing. Kelly has presented papers in field recognized conferences. Kelly holds a BS in Applied Mathematics from Weber State University, an MS and PHD degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Utah.
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Volunteer Opportunities
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
Latest Questions
  • Sydney, Freeport, Florida

    Added Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 1:52 PM

    Hi, my name is Sydney Brown and I want to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. I am a senior in high school. I began working on cars when I was 11. Now I am currently a race car driver. I am 17 and the youngest and only female race car driver at my local tracks. I drive a Dirt Crate Late Model Race Car. I love racing with a burning passion and want to do it until it kills me. I build, repair, and do all maintenance on my race cars unlike most drivers. I am the only girl in the south that ...
    Answers 1
    Kelly Knight, Bechtel National, Inc.
    Answered Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 1:52 PM

    Sydney, it is great that you have achieved much as a young age. This experience will serve you well in your career choice and anything else in life. Keep going for what you want.

    Regarding being the best race car driver: a mechanical engineering degree ...

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  • Hyewon

    Added Friday, July 11, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    Hi I am going to be a senior in high school and this summer I've been looking at a lot of colleges. I really want to go in as a mechanical engineering major, but a lot of doubts are rising. Do I need to have experience relating to the field before college? I have taken related courses and I'm good at math, although not ahead. School just seems really hard and I guess I don't want to set myself up for something that could fail and waste my time. If you could give me any insight that would be ...
    Answers 1
    Kelly Knight, Bechtel National, Inc.
    Answered Friday, July 11, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    Hi Hyewon, 

    It is always good to has experience in something but in this case, it is not needed. I did not have any experience other than basic high school classes. Your success depends on your willingness to dig in and study and do whatever else ...

    Read More
  • Alice, Los Angeles, CA asked Kelly Knight, Bechtel National, Inc.

    Added Friday, March 30, 2012 at 4:34 AM

    I am working as a high school math teacher. When I was an undergraduate math student, I have taken some industrial engineering classes and loved them. Now I'm thinking to go back to school to get a master's degree in IE. I'm in my late 20's. Is it too late to become an engineer?
    Related to Graduate School, Industrial, Internships & Jobs
    Answers 1
    Kelly Knight, Bechtel National, Inc.
    Answered Friday, March 30, 2012 at 4:34 AM
    I obtained my Masters around age 35 and my PHD at 41. My initial reasoning was that I was very dissatisfied with what I was doing at the time and made a commitment to myself to walk the path of fulfillment in all of my life and that meant an upper degree ...Read More
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