A fascination with the built environment defined Karen Compton’s career path
Karen Compton’s brainchild, A3K Consulting, is an advisory firm for architecture, engineering and construction companies. Founded in 2006, her practice is the culmination of a career spanning every facet of the built environment.
“I was able to grow a career based on understanding things from the ground up,” says Compton BS ‘87, whose statement can be taken quite literally: One of her first jobs was as project manager for a firm that conducts groundwater and soil contamination cleanups.
After leaving the water quality company, Compton worked for a general contractor where she learned about construction. From there she worked for a couple of engineering companies and, finally, an architectural firm.
“It was like putting the cherry on the cake,” says Compton. “I got to understand how architecture integrated with engineering, how engineering relates to construction, and how construction related to soil and groundwater cleanup. So the trajectory of my career covered the entire built environment. And I loved it.”
Compton admits her career could have easily taken a different turn. As a teenager, she fell in love with science during a summer school class at a history museum. “It was called Mr. Wizard, and Mr. Wizard blew everything up,” she recalls. “There was something about that hands-on experience that lit my heart on fire.”
Compton enrolled at MSMU with a declared major in chemistry. As a first year she struggled to adjust, but her faculty advisor, Eleanor Siebert, PhD, served as both mentor and friend. “Dr. Siebert had a deep and meaningful impact on me because she saw me as a person and valued me as a student,” Compton says.
After graduation, Compton considered an advanced degree in environmental sciences but instead accepted a project manager position at Hughes Aircraft. When the company shut down manufacturing operations due to stricter environmental regulations, Compton switched gears and began working on contaminated site cleanups.
In 1994, she reconnected with the Mount through the establishment of The Endowment for the Advancement of African Americans in Science and Technology. “I started the scholarship to provide opportunities for women of color who want to study science, chemistry, biology, computer science and mathematics,” says Compton.
But she’s quick to add that she didn’t do it alone. “I had help from a community of amazing Mount alums, family and friends,” she says. “They helped raise the endowment to where it stands today.”