Arnold's Kathy Nichols is new president of Tennessee Society for Professional Engineers

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Tullahoma resident Kathy Nichols, the manager of civil and facility design engineering for Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center, will assume the presidency of the Tennessee Society for Professional Engineers (TSPE) on July 1.

Jim Currey, a project manager with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, aeronautics division, and TSPE president from 2006 to 2007, said Nichol's appointment to the top leadership spot at the organization was the right choice.

"She displays some skills and qualities that are frankly quite impressive," he said.

"She has some outstanding leadership skills. She is very good at issue identification and getting down to the bottom line with those issues and determining what options you have. Part of the job is political - our primary purpose for the TSPE is to promote the ethical and competent practice of engineering. Kathy Nichols is a very good role model."

Currey said he is particularly impressed with a project Nichols has initiated and will be undertaking in her leadership role with TSPE.

"One thing Ms Nichols is looking at now is developing a relationship between the TSPE and the presidents of the colleges and universities that have engineering schools across the state of Tennessee to determine between private practice and the educational system - how do you train our engineering students to better prepare them for practice out in the world?

From the educational system, what do you need when you step out into the world of engineering practice and then from the private practice end, 'this is what we can expect from engineering graduates.'"

Nichols, upon learning of the selection, said, "I was honored by the request, but also realized it would take time and energy. I decided that if the TSPE membership was willing to elect me, I'd be willing to serve.

Having a state board of directors committed to the same goals and the support of a talented and energetic committee chairman, will be a tremendous help."
She first came to AEDC in July 1995, to oversee contractual engineering specifications and ensure the contract documents are accurate and will actually meet the needs of the work being requested.

"In essence, I make sure that all the pieces are put together, so, that a project can actually be accomplished," she explained.

"I deal mainly with contracts and make sure that the drawings are going to mesh with the engineering specifications for the project. It's my job to make sure we have the right bidding instructions - we're acting as advisors, to wrap up the whole technical package outlined in a contract."

Nichols, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Iowa, originally planned to study biomedical engineering in college. However, before long the pure engineering courses won out over the classes in anatomy and biology.

Approximately eight years ago, she joined the Tullahoma chapter of the TSPE and decided it was time to get her professional engineering (PE) license, which is not a requirement for her work at AEDC.

She said TSPE is a professional society comprised of engineers and likened the PE license to the Hippocratic Oath, taken by physicians.

"It is the engineers' equivalent of that," she said. "Your word is your bond."

Nichols is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, but she said it is important to know how these organizations differ from the TSPE.

"Those other organizations, AIAA, ASME, etc., they specialize in engineering topics and technical work, codes and standards and so forth," she explained. "TSPE is more about the engineering profession - it's concerned with public health and safety, and the competent and ethical practice of engineering."

Nichols said TSPE, through the organization's executive and legislative committees, already serves an important civic role in helping to promote public safety.

"TSPE is in contact with the state legislators," she said. "We usually take a stand and do a point paper for proposed legislation that we think will affect the public's health and safety. We may take a take a positive or a negative stance. If we take a negative stance we tell the legislators why we are concerned."

She said because TSPE represents all engineering disciplines, it is the organization that the governor turns to when he needs to appoint engineers to state boards. Nichols also said the organization makes an effort to address a wide range of engineering issues, everything from bridges, dams and road signs, to the biomedical industry, throughout Tennessee.

"TSPE is concerned with just about everything you can think of related to engineering," she said. "One example is fire codes - several years ago there was a concern about sprinkler systems in nursing homes. We work with the architects, licensing boards, surveying organizations and contractors, all under the public health umbrella. It even includes designing the crash dummies so that they have the right body mass and they will react like a human (being).

"I also did research on artificial joints; to make sure we understand the engineering of the wrist joint better so that the artificial wrist could be designed and hold up better. People come in all different sizes and shapes and weights, so medicine has to deal with that new equipment, new joints and other advances."

Nichols finds her work at AEDC equally challenging and rewarding.

"We do exciting work here, it's challenging and the work is always different at the center - there is a whole lot of different kinds of engineering going on here," she said. "Also, I think there is an atmosphere here of people wanting to do things better, everybody is open to suggestions and willing to make changes where needed."

Nichols has communicated a need for TSPE to reach out to minorities and women, to attempt to draw them into the engineering profession early in their college careers.

"Diversity is the name of the game," Currey said. "To us, you don't want to potentially exclude any group. We want to prepare people and in fact, entice them into careers with engineering - there are so many other fields of endeavor that are attractive at this time. You want to try to prepare people and make it very attractive for them to choose engineering as a profession and practice it in competent and professional manner."

Nichols said her upbringing helped to lay the groundwork for her career.

"My father, Richard Dohrmann, was an engineer," she said. Nichol's mother, Joyce was an elementary teacher, third grade.

"They were a good mix, my dad was precise and methodical and problem solving, but my mom added creativity and innovation to the mix," she recalled. "That's a good combination for an engineer to figure out new solutions."

Her father, who has since passed away, was a mechanical engineer and Nichol's two brothers also are engineers. The new TSPE president has three children, including a son, James and daughter-in-law Melissa and grandsons, Isaac and Eli. Ms. Nichols has a younger son, Ben, and a daughter, Anna, both recent college graduates.

When Nichols isn't busy with crafting and steering multi-million dollar engineering contracts at AEDC or tackling the challenges of the TSPE, she enjoys quilting and honing her musical skills with the cello and fiddle.