Paducah Systems Engineer La’Nora Westbrook has a powerful message for her two boys and the young people she speaks to on behalf of the local engineering college: “You can do this!”
“I have learned that you can either feel sorry for yourself and give up,” Westbrook said, “or tell yourself, this is not what I want my life to be, and try to make things better.”
With that attitude, Westbrook has made things better for herself and her family, and she feels an obligation to share her message of hope with other young people from similarly challenging backgrounds.
“What I enjoy most about working with young people is instilling in them the fact that it does not matter where you come from or what people may say you cannot do,” Westbrook said. “Many of these kids think that because things are bad for them right now, it will always be that way, so they never try to make things better for themselves. I know that you can, because I lived it,” she added.
At age 16, Westbrook began her journey by training to be a certified nursing assistant and going to work. She attended West Kentucky Community & Technical College after graduating from Paducah Tilghman High school in 2000. Knowing she excelled in math and science, Westbrook thought maybe a career in nursing was the practical way to put her skills to work. But she did not enjoy the curriculum and realized nursing was not the answer for her. Through a friend, she learned about the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering located on the WKCTC campus, and by 2001, she was pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.
In spite of having her first child, son Jordon, right before the start of her junior year, Westbrook still completed the program in five years and graduated from the University of Kentucky College of engineering with a degree in mechanical engineering in May 2006. USEC had already established a relationship with the program and was pleased to find a good engineering candidate with strong ties to the region.
Five months later, she was working for USEC in the Design Engineering Group. In October, Westbrook will celebrate her fifth service anniversary. She now works as a systems engineer assigned to the plant’s process ventilation and infrastructure systems. She functions as the ventilation engineer and project manager, responsible for keeping track of the budget for maintenance and repairs, routine walkdowns of the supply and exhaust fans and filter rooms. She is also the responsible engineer for maintaining the roads, railroads, roofs and building structures.
Westbrook says she enjoys system engineering because she has the opportunity to get involved in the details and learn new things. She says she has learned a lot over the past year, particularly from Operations and the Maintenance crews that keep the systems going.
Westbrook’s second son Jalen was born three years ago. Her husband, Richard Elifritz, who worked to help pay the bills while Westbrook was completing her degree, is now just one semester away from his own engineering degree.
With two young children and a demanding job, Westbrook doesn’t have a great deal of time to volunteer, but she has helped recruit young people for the UK-Paducah Engineering Program by sharing her personal story.
She also partnered with the WKCTC staff to mentor two students that had expressed interest in technical fields as part of the Carlisle County Schools’ E-mentoring Program. She kept in touch with the students and got together periodically to share information and answer questions.
Westbrook also served as a speaker at the WKCTC “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Forum for girls held at the college earlier this year. She spoke with girls who have an interest in careers in math and science, gave them some insight into what her engineering career involves and explained the educational requirements and opportunities.