Kristi Lebkowsky is a STEM educator at Henley High School in Klamath Falls, Oregon, a high school that specializes in providing students with a career-readiness experience. Kristi’s motto of, “It’s not about perfection, it’s about perseverance,” is helping change the narrative for her students about what success looks like.

Please describe your educational/training background

I have a BS in Chemistry from the University of Oregon, and my MS in Chemistry from the University of Oregon (this was specific to the semiconductor industry). I received my MED from Wayland Baptist University and earned my Ph.D. in Chemistry from Tulane University.

I worked at Hynix Semiconductor from 2002 – 2004 as a process engineer. One of my duties was training the workers in the fab to use the analysis equipment to inspect wafers.

At Tulane University I was in charge of the implementation, training, operation, and maintenance of a Bruker Daltonics Electron Spray Ionization Mass Spectrometer for the Chemistry Department. ($500,000 piece of equipment.)

Please describe where you work & your occupation

I work at Henley High School in Klamath Falls, OR where I am the engineering and robotics teacher. I am also the coach for the competition robotics teams. I have also been the host of the regional Kidwind Turbine Event for 5 years, although I am not hosting this year.

Career-wise, what have been your proudest moments/highlights/accomplishments so far?

As a teacher, I am most proud of instilling a self-belief in students that anything is truly possible. With hard work and determination, they can accomplish any goal/dream. I currently have students living those dreams, one student is a freshman at USC and she is majoring in chemical engineering, and another is at UC Davis and she is studying aerospace engineering. I also have a bunch of students at OIT and OSU pursuing computer science and engineering degrees. A student who was in the first year of my engineering program back in 2016 is graduating with a signed offer to work for Boeing in St. Louis after completing his mechanical engineering degree. Students who complete robotics and engineering at Henley High School typically receive over $200,000 in college scholarships. I think our top number was in 2022 at $280,000.

As an individual, I am most proud of the research I did while I was a graduate student at Tulane University. I developed a nickel catalyst that could be used in a solution with a ruthenium complex that I synthesized. Then through a light-induced reaction, we were able to pluck protons from proton donors to form molecular hydrogen that can be used for fuel or to create other fuels. The ultimate goal is to be able to use water as the hydrogen source (not accomplished yet). Typically catalysts are made from expensive metals like platinum, so being able to achieve positive results with a nickel catalyst was very exciting.

What are some of your future goals or things you would like to accomplish?

I would like to work to develop both curriculum and training for teachers to more easily incorporate STEM lessons into their regular class day. Teachers have about 12-15 hours worth of work to do in every 8-hour day. We need to create a process that doesn’t just pile work onto the classroom teacher.

What have been some of your biggest career challenges?

My biggest challenge is that I don’t know how to say no. I want to always be able to help people but I become so task-saturated that it doesn’t leave me enough downtime or time for self-care. I recognize this in my students too. Because of this, I taught my seniors last year some meditation techniques to help them identify that they need a way to handle the demands of the career paths they are choosing. Although meditation is not a good fit for everyone it really helped them to understand that they needed an outlet for stress. It could be working out, taking a walk, spending time with people they care about, a variety of other activities.

Many young women might not be aware of the careers available in STEM fields. What do you think can be done to spread the word to women about career options in these fields?

I feel that young women are very aware of the careers in STEM fields but with so many of the STEM fields being male-dominated, it takes a certain amount of bravery, confidence, and desire to choose that path. If we can continue to teach and encourage ALL students to dive into activities that are related to STEM starting in the early elementary years we can work to help this trend. So, I guess my answer is early exposure.

Do you have any advice for women who are looking to follow a similar career path?

Find a career path that you are passionate about. Choose something that is intellectually challenging where you can continue to learn and grow. Anyone can accomplish any task that they put their mind to with hard work and perseverance.

What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

I like to spend time with my family, skiing, hiking, indoor climbing, and traveling.

Please add any other information that you feel we should know.

I am a mom of a wonderful 5-year-old little boy 🙂