UALR graduate finds success at LM Wind Power

Kari Payton, a May graduate of UALR, is now an industrial engineer in global plant support with LM Wind Power in Little Rock. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications.

In 2011, Kari Payton arrived at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as a decorated athlete with a bright college basketball career ahead of her.

An injury and a change of heart led Payton to give up basketball and her athletic scholarship to focus on her academic career in the George W. Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology.

Related: UALR offers world-class majors in construction and engineering

After earning one of the university’s most prestigious scholarships, the 2011 Wendy’s Louisiana Heisman Trophy winner went on to a successful academic career, double majoring in systems engineering and sociology.

Payton, a May graduate, already has a full-time position as an industrial engineer with LM Wind Power in Little Rock.

The company, which manufactures wind turbine blades, has plants throughout the world, including sites in Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Turkey, and the U.S.

The wide variety of locales provides Payton with a great opportunity to travel internationally. She flew to Bangalore, India, in June and is scheduled to go to Amsterdam in October.

Payton’s work focuses on creating simulations that support operations for the company’s plants. She is learning C++ programming language, modeling software, and plant operations.

Changing pursuits

A native of Bastrop, Louisiana, Payton arrived at UALR in 2011 on an athletic scholarship, but her college basketball career was short lived. An injury took her off the court her first semester, and she had little playing time during her second semester.

Kari Payton, a May graduate of UALR, is now an industrial engineer in global plant support with LM Wind Power in Little Rock. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications.
Kari Payton, a May graduate of UALR, is now an industrial engineer in global plant support with LM Wind Power in Little Rock. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications.

“It was a struggle for me,” she said. “I suffered a back injury, and I think I only recorded seven minutes of play time the whole season. I finally decided to pursue engineering and let basketball go.”

After basketball, Payton stayed at UALR, earning a scholarship from the Donaghey Scholars Program. She’s thankful to Kathryn Young, director of admissions, Jennifer Moody, associate director of admissions operations, and Dr. Simon Hawkins, director of the Donaghey Scholars Program, for helping her pursue her dreams.

“The people in Donaghey Scholars were very influential in me staying at UALR,” she said. “They listen to you and encourage you to follow the wildest ideas in your life. I was blessed with a scholarship, and that time was some of the best four years of my life.”

The secret to Payton’s success was a combination of activities inside and outside the classroom. Although her studies were devoted to science and math, Payton also discovered an unexpected love for social science.

“I took a social science class about race concepts in America in the Donaghey Scholars program, and the idea blew my mind,” Payton said. “I have never thought about anything but math and science, but one of my teachers told me I have a gift for this.”

Payton graduated with two majors, a Bachelor of Science in systems engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. She thinks the sociology skills will be useful when traveling to different countries and working with people from other cultures.

In addition to her coursework, Payton participated in three undergraduate research fellowships. Because of her hard work, she earned the Engineering and Information Technology Outstanding Senior award and the Systems Engineering Outstanding Senior Award in May.

Payton also studied Spanish in Nicaragua and completed two internships. Her first internship is what led to her current position. She worked as a quality and operations engineering intern at LM Wind Power in 2013. While searching for a job this spring, she contacted the company to ask about open positions.

“UALR gave me a lot of opportunities,” she said. “Those experiences in college are invaluable. It helps you to learn how to apply your education to a professional work environment.”

Giving back to the community

Payton is a volunteer with STEP Ministries. After serving as a mentor to an eighth-grade girl, Payton was inspired to start a pilot program to introduce students to science and engineering.

“These kids are from neighborhoods where, historically, there has been a lot of crime, and I want to give them the opportunity to understand that education is very important to their lives,” Payton said. “I want them to know that if they have the skills and the interest and apply themselves, they can do anything.”

Participating students took a career skills assessment test. Those who had an aptitude for technology were invited for some Saturday workshops in February and March that focused on robotics and other technical challenges.

Out of the 12 students she invited, eight from junior high and high school attended Payton’s “Imagination Camp.” She plans to continue the program in the future.

“It’s one of my passions to reach out to people who are underrepresented and share with them my struggles and help them get to where they want to be,” she said.  

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