Kendra Ford: Advanced Quality Engineer, GE Appliances
Written by Dawn Anderson, Rocko Jerome and Taylor Riley | Photographed on location at the Frazier History Museum by Kylene White | Styled by Christine Fellingham and Melissa Gagliardi | Hair and makeup by Sarah Allen, Kassandra Cazares Aldana, Kayla Greenwell, Breanna Peters and Michaela Reeves
The field narrowed from over 400 nominations to 89 nominees and finally to the 16 award winners you will meet on the following pages. Representing each of their categories with distinction, your 2023 Most Admired Women bring humility, grace and a great capacity for change to their roles as leaders in our community. We asked each of them to reflect on how they got to this moment, what your votes and this award means to them and where their journeys might take them from here.
“It’s awesome to see all the hard work put in by fellow nominees and winners and to be recognized as a role model by many,” says Advanced Quality Engineer Kendra Ford of GE Appliances, a Haier company. Kendra is simultaneously maintaining a 4.0 GPA while pursuing a Master’s in Engineering Management at the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering, managing a new product launch at GEA, participating in competitive cheerleading, and helping to coach the St. Xavier High School cheerleading squad. With so many commitments, “finding true balance in every environment” is the goal. “Giving my all requires preparation, delegation, and always using my calendar!”
Kendra has always wanted to give back to her community. “In engineering, I have the opportunity to create new ideas, contribute to others’ ideas, and bring those ideas to reality,” she says. “Product development is just as rewarding, especially when you see people in your own community using something you helped create.” As a young girl, cheerleading was her extracurricular pursuit. But Kendra was also adept in critical thinking skills and joined a problem-solving team, which laid the groundwork for coaching and her career path.
Earning her Chemical Engineering degree gave Kendra her first taste of true success. “It took six years to get there, but I would not quit. I struggled with my grades because of the heavy course load and tough curriculum while balancing extracurriculars. But I was determined to graduate and keep my scholarships by all means necessary.” Upon completion of her Master’s program in June, Kendra will pursue an MBA at the University of Louisville in August.
“Education was the key for me to get out of poverty. I push hard to support others in that capacity so that we can break the cycle.”
“To reach goals that were set forth before starting a project” is Kendra’s definition of success. “With the confirmation of my capabilities, I can teach others to do even better in similar situations. What I learn from barriers I face allows me to then share my knowledge and experience so others can apply it to their experience,” Kendra says. She was helped on her journey by mentors and allies such as UofL co-op advisor Erica Gray, who advised Kendra not to let previous less-than-ideal co-op experiences cause her to question her ability to be an engineer.
At GEA, Wanda Ramsey is a general career coach who took Kendra under her wing. “She is always willing to help me with the next steps when navigating tough decisions at work,” she says. Kendra also credits Fiana Fite, Megan Sollman and Josh McCrady with contributing to and supporting her success in her current role at GEA.
Kendra’s tremendous drive also stems from the adversity she experienced in childhood. “We went from having everything to little or nothing,” she says. “When my family hit that rough patch financially, it gave me an understanding of what others go through, how to get out of a situation, and how to help others. Education was the key for me to get out of poverty. I push hard to support others in that capacity so that we can break the cycle.”
Kendra is excited about earning her graduate degrees, launching a new product soon with GEA, participating in competitive cheerleading, and continuing to help with St. X Cheer. Her advice to young women interested in STEM careers is to attend engineering camps, which usually provide some scholarships. “Put yourself out there, step out of your comfort zone, and explore your interests,” Kendra says. “Finding a sisterhood of women in the STEM field will provide a support system for your studies.” — Dawn Anderson