Welder turned physicist fuses technical and academic education

11.02.2018 | By Jeannie Peng Mansyur

Taylor Carnahan’s welding skill leads to path of undergraduate research

PASADENA, Texas – Taylor Carnahan is a welder turned physicist, and she has a message for anyone pursuing a college education. Do what you love.

Carnahan grew up in Kentucky with early childhood memories of helping her father build a skateboard ramp for her brother. She was given her first tool belt, and as they say, the rest is history. After high school, she earned two bachelor’s degrees in art and humanities from the University of Louisville that led her to meet a manager who hired her as a mechanic for a welding shop.

“It was a workshop that had all of these amazing tools, and they really took a chance on me,” said Carnahan, who began studying to become a certified welder at the Knight School of Welding in Kentucky as the only woman studying engineering design, building and reprogramming. She was quickly promoted as a technician laser specialist. “I would read about physics and experiment with some new techniques on the laser that I worked with on the job. I started to feel this calling to learn more about physics.”

Carnahan moved to Houston with her husband, who is a mechanical engineer, and searched to enroll in a college. She visited the University of Houston and was advised to attend San Jacinto College to take science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. During her first semester at San Jacinto College, Carnahan was quickly recruited to work on projects alongside professors to gain research experience, an opportunity that the College encourages all STEM students to pursue. She was chosen for the prestigious summer research internship at Fermi-Lab, the USA particle accelerator laboratory, by the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. 

“It was the best decision to attend San Jacinto College,” said Carnahan. “After my first test, my physics professor, Dr. Laria Redjimi, told me about a science group for women that was working on sending a project into space, a radiation shield for the astronauts. My professors really embraced my ideas and helped me figure out how to achieve my goals. I knew they really cared about my success.”

Carnahan also collaborated with the San Jacinto College welding program on quantifying welding techniques. “To the women welders who want to be in welding and science, please come into this field,” said Carnahan. “It makes me proud to see women doing what they love - they’re breaking down the wall.”

Now at the University of Houston, Carnahan continues to study physics and has been approached by NASA to work in the rocket machine shop, putting her physics and welding skills to good use.

She has some advice for those considering either technical or academic degree routes. “If something interests you, go further and ask why and how it works,” said Carnahan. “If you want to get into a technical field, go for it because it’s absolutely worth it.”

Dr. Chris Wild, San Jacinto College department chair of chemistry, engineering, geology and physics, said Carnahan’s journey is an example of how far a person can go with both technical and academic studies at a community college, while also gaining undergraduate research opportunities to take them to the next level in their college education. 

“Taylor is a marvelous example of leveraging opportunities that are a function of her determination,” said Wild. “She is a certified welder who developed an interest in experimental physics and found herself at one of the foremost experimental physics research sites in the world.”

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has served the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. The College is fiscally sound, holding bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. San Jacinto College is a 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top 10 institution, a 2017 Aspen Prize Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. The College serves approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students annually, and offers eight areas of study that puts students on a path to transfer to four-year institutions or enter the workforce. San Jacinto College’s impact on the region totals $1.3 billion in added income, which supports 13,044 jobs.

For more information about San Jacinto College call 281-998-6150, visit sanjac.edu or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.