MC alumna enjoys research career for Department of Defense

MC alumna enjoys research career for Department of DefenseFebruary 01, 2023

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Rachel Kinard


Fifteen years ago, 28-year-old Dr. Rachel Kinard (nee Harris) didn’t think she wanted to go to college.  However, in May 2021, she found herself defending her doctoral dissertation in Algebraic Topology at Texas Tech University.  Now, she is working at Wright-Patterson Airforce Base near Dayton, OH as a research mathematician at the U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) Sensors Directorate.  

“I love my job,” Kinard said.  “It’s exciting and fast-paced.  I work and partner with teams across the U.S. to facilitate technical exchange and solve problems associated with sensing technologies.”  

Kinard attended Texas Tech on the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship program awarded by the Department of Defense.  The scholarship provides full tuition, annual stipends and book/health allowances to students pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees.  It also provides summer internships.  Upon degree completion, students are guaranteed employment with their Department of Defense sponsor organization and work a service commitment as a civilian employee for the same number of years they were funded. 

“I knew that I would have a job when I finished with my Ph.D., but It’s rare to land a job with a military research facility immediately after completing a degree,” Kinard explained.  “I’m very fortunate.”

Kinard is the daughter of army parents.  She was born in Fitchburg, MA and moved to Germany at a young age.  In 2005, when she was 10, she moved to Midland with her mother and siblings in order to be close to extended family.  Kinard’s education began as a homeschool student being taught by her mother.  In 2010, when she was 16, she started taking courses at Midland College (MC) as part of the college’s early enrollment program.  She is now the first person in her family to earn a Ph.D.

“I never dreamed that I would go to college, but my mother told me to give it a try,” Kinard recalled.  “I have seven siblings, and several of us attended MC and are now enjoying successful careers as educators, engineers, mathematicians and information technology professionals.  One of my sisters, who started her higher education journey at MC, is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in architecture at Texas Tech.  Now, it’s my mom’s turn.  She is also taking Computer Science courses toward her degree at MC.”

Even through graduate school, Kinard was employed as a math tutor in the Midland College Math Lab.  

“I guess I’ve always had an affinity for math and science,” Kinard recalled.  “When I took MC’s math placement exam, I immediately placed into Calculus – this came as quite a shock for me!  Once I had completed a couple of math courses, the college hired me to be a math tutor.  I truly enjoyed my time working in the MC Math Lab and helping students.”

After completing coursework at MC, Kinard transferred to the University of Texas Permian Basin (UTPB) and received baccalaureate degrees in Math and Mechanical Engineering.  While at UTPB, she created a new equation for fluid motion in a gas turbine under the mentorship of Dr. Essam Ibrahim and began studying Topology under Dr. Xinyun Zhu.

UTPB is also where Rachel met her husband Brandon Kinard, who is from Big Spring and a community college alum having attended Howard College.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and will graduate with his master’s degree at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.  

“Brandon and I both feel that starting our higher education journeys at community colleges gave us a firm foundation and encouraged us to explore degree and career possibilities,” Kinard explained.  “I first thought I wanted to pursue paralegal studies, and my husband thought he wanted to be a game warden.  I took a few math classes and really enjoyed them.  So, my professors at Midland College allowed me to refine my talents and skills, and I was able to learn about career possibilities where I could capitalize on those talents and skills.”    

After graduating from UTPB in May 2016, Rachel became an adjunct instructor at Midland College and taught developmental math courses and a physical science lab.  Then, in fall 2017, she moved to Lubbock where she enrolled in Texas Tech’s comprehensive master’s/doctoral program in Mathematics.  She graduated with a Ph.D. in 2021, just two weeks before marrying Brandon.  In August 2021, she started working at AFRL.  

“My job as a researcher with AFRL involves a lot of project management and technology management,” Kinard explained.  “In addition, I also get to perform my own research.  For my dissertation, I developed algorithms for skein manipulation knot theory. Today I develop algorithms for sensor management – the same beautiful theory extends across many disciplines!”

The research she now performs is in the same spirit as the work she began during her doctoral studies at Texas Tech.  For her doctoral dissertation, using Python computer programming language, Kinard developed a program to automate knot and skein computations and is now in the process of publishing the program.

When she isn’t busy traveling and establishing her job at AFRL, Rachel enjoys spending time with Brandon and their four dogs, Boston Terrier/Pug mixes.  The couple also enjoy gardening, Mario Kart gaming and reading.  

“We have a huge library of math and engineering books,” Rachel said.  

Both of their families live in West Texas, and Rachel and Brandon try to get back to the area every three or four months.  

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