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May 9, 2008
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, (785) 864-8853.

Graduation stories: KU engineering student earns distinction as Haskell transfer

Kristin Danielson

LAWRENCE — As a high school student in Tahlequah, Okla., Kristin Danielson, whose heritage includes Jemez Pueblo and Cherokee, never considered college.

“Everything I’ve accomplished, I think has been out of grit,” Danielson said as she prepared for her graduation from the University of Kansas, which takes place Sunday, May 18. Danielson not only joins the ranks of the few women engineers but she is also among the few women transferring from Haskell Indian Nations University to earn an engineering degree at KU.

Danielson, who had happily waited tables in a restaurant after high school, received five corporate job offers this spring as a mechanical engineering senior. She chose to be a consulting engineer with Exxon Mobil’s research and engineering division’s heat and transfer group in Fairfax, Va.

While at KU, Danielson earned scholarships in addition to working in KU’s Biodynamics Research Lab, directed by Carl Luchies. The lab’s multidisciplinary team analyzes human motion, particularly in relation to fatigue, aging and diseases such as Parkinson’s. Luchies became Danielson’s adviser for her undergraduate research projects on motion and balance studies in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

As her research mentor, Luchies said he was not surprised at the number of job offers Danielson received. Mechanical engineering seniors may receive two, three or even four offers, but five is more unusual. Luchies attributes Danielson’s leadership in extracurricular activities, research experience and determination as qualities that are especially attractive to recruiters.

Luchies described Danielson as “the real thing.”

“Kristin is not easily intimidated,” he said. “She is very pragmatic — she puts her mind to getting something done and makes it happen.”

Danielson’s decision to go to college is an indication of that determination. Her mother, Elizabeth Fahey, Jemez Pueblo, lives in Tucson and did not attend college. Although her father, Michael Danielson, Cherokee, an administrator with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Albuquerque, has a civil engineering degree, Danielson recalled, “It didn’t occur to me to go to college and it wasn’t until I was bored that I decided to do it.”

During much of her childhood, Danielson lived with her grandmother, Jane Danielson of Tahlequah. After high school graduation, Danielson worked as a server at TGI Fridays and was able to transfer around the country with the franchise. She worked in Tulsa, Okla.; Greenbelt, Md.; and Atlanta, Ga., before boredom set in.

By 2003, her self-described Bohemian stage was fading and Danielson returned to Tahlequah. She considered community college but found tuition costs more than she expected. A former high school coach suggested Haskell.

Overnight, literally, Danielson was on her way to college. “I found out the application deadline was the next day so I drove to Lawrence that day, paid my admission fee, scoped out the town and came back to Tahlequah.” She had also found part-time work as a server in Overland Park.

At Haskell, she enrolled in liberal arts, planning a career in broadcast journalism. Yet after two internships, Danielson realized journalism didn’t interest her nearly as much as working with numbers and investigating facts.

Both Lucas Miller, a Haskell math teacher and KU graduate student, and Ann Foster, director of the Bridges to the Future Program, a federally funded project to promote diversity in the biomedical sciences, recognized Danielson’s math and science potential. KU’s engineering program had an opening for a transfer student. They recommended she apply.

Again, Danielson was faced with an overnight decision. She was enrolled at Haskell but KU’s School of Engineering minority program had an opening for the January 2005 term. In two days, Danielson was a KU student — trying to catch up in math and physics.

At KU, she received an SBC Foundation Minority Recruitment Program Scholarship and later earned a Thomas M. Bowlus Scholarship and an Arthur S. and Helen May Johnson Scholarship for Women in Engineering.

Danielson said her decision to accept the offer from Exxon Mobil was influenced in large part by a personal interest in energy production and resources. She consulted her dad, who supported her decision.

Her father, maternal grandmother and paternal grandmother, Frances Toledo, Jemez Pueblo, N.M., will attend the commencement ceremonies at KU.

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