EnergyUnited engineer’s unconventional path serves as inspiration for the next generation

Nearly seven years ago, a conversation with a former classmate and a leap of faith changed Karla Rust’s entire career path.

It wasn’t the first time the EnergyUnited engineer went against her original plan, but she said it led her to a job filled with purpose and ambition.

“With the cooperatives, you’re part of the community,” said Rust. “Everything we do is mission focused which takes me back to my military experience, where you’re part of something bigger than you.”

While Rust has spent the last seven years with the cooperatives, her journey to this point has been different than your typical engineer.

Service to country

Rust’s introduction to the STEM world didn’t start in a laboratory or office, but rather through enlisting with the United States Air Force.

Rust and her husband served in the military. At the time of this photo in 2015, Rust was Master Sgt and Lumpkin was a Technical Sgt.

When she joined the reserves, Rust said she was talked into a role as communications and navigations system specialist.

While she admits she had no experience working in the communications field, Rust accepted the challenge. Over the next 13 years, Rust assisted with repairs of aircraft radio and radar navigation systems.

“It ended up being the best job in the Air Force,” said Rust. “Serving in such a vital role was a great opportunity for me. Much of what I did in the military helped shape the person I am today.”

Before joining the Air Force, Rust was a biochemistry major at the University of Delaware. She said she made it to her senior year before deciding the major wasn’t for her.

While Rust thought her change of heart would lead her to pursue a career in chemical engineering, she instead found herself interested in electrical engineering.

Making the switch

Rust would go on to obtain her electrical engineering degree at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina in 2014.

Unsure of what her next move would be, Rust sought out a former classmate who had transitioned from a lineworker to an engineer.

Rust travels to schools and universities for career days to inspire students to explore careers like engineering.

“I asked her how she liked her job, and she told me how amazing it was,” said Rust. “So I decided to go for it, and that’s how I ended up getting connected with the co-ops.”

Going on seven years, Rust has played a vital role in powering the lives of EnergyUnited members as an engineer. While she said she went out on a limb by following a career that was different than her previous experience, she believes the cooperatives took the time to invest and help her grow.

“They put a lot of time and effort into helping us, and making sure we are well-equipped for the job,” said Rust. “The cooperatives even empower us to keep seeking growth opportunities, whether that be through continued education or training.”

Encouraging the next generation

Rust acknowledges her path is different than many engineers but credits her hard work and determination for getting her to this point.

She’s even serving as an inspiration to the next generation, both on the job and at home.

“I have a 12-year-old daughter, and sometimes I hear that she’s been telling her friends ‘I want to be an engineer when I grow up,’” said Rust. “So being able to expose her to the possibilities of a career in STEM is a fulfilling moment, and it lets me know that I’m doing the right thing.”

Rust believes young students should look into opportunities in fields like engineering, as she said it allows you to serve your community each day.

“I have no regrets when it comes to the path I took to get here,” said Rust. “So my message for people is don’t be afraid to try new things and seek out different opportunities. You never know where you’ll end up, but each experience is valuable and helps mold you.”