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For Black History Month, this February #WeAreCookChildrens will feature various Black employees from around Cook Children’s and spotlight what brought them here, as well as the impact they hope to have on the organization, our families and patients.
This week’s #WeAreCookChildrens focuses on AVP of System Effectiveness and Process Improvement Shernette Kydd, Ph.D.
The legacy of our families lives on through each of us. Whether you come from a tight-knit family or not, you may still see the occasional threads of your family in the tapestry of your life.
For Shernette, those threads aren’t subtle. With a natural ease, she can quickly point to the ways that not only her parents molded her character but one of her brother’s put her on a career path that would ultimately lead to Cook Children’s. Albeit in a most unconventional way.
Growing up in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, she was the youngest of six children to Frankie and Iona. Despite her father dying when she was only 8 years old, his impact on her continued to ripple.
Frankie spent his career in health care as an "ambulance driver" (aka EMT) and pilot in St. Thomas. Shernette proudly recalled, "My father was actually the first to fly a patient from St. Thomas to Florida. "He loved taking care of people and, now that I think about it, solving problems."
"My parents were well-known musicians on the island, and loved and respected by so many," she continued. "As the youngest, my entire family would always tell me, ‘Remember you are Frankie’s daughter!’ It was both a sense of pride and also something to live up to."
Thankfully, Shernette had a strong role model in her life - her mother, who only recently passed away. Shernette would follow in her footsteps in so many ways, even when she didn’t realize it. "In my mother, I saw nothing but determination. Nothing but toughness, but in a gentle and loving way. Nothing but trust in God to help get you through," she said.
"Looking back, I didn’t realize that I was building up that same toughness and confidence until many years later when I was the only minority and woman around in the early years as an engineer. I never felt that I had to remove myself from a situation or that I didn’t belong because I knew I had something to offer."
The path to an initial career in engineering was also a byproduct of her family. Always having a passion for math and science, the spark to pursue engineering was lit by one of her brothers, who was working at Freightliners. "He took us to tour the facility one weekend and I was just fascinated with what I saw," she said. "That fundamentally stirred by interest in engineering."
Eventually making the long trip from the Caribbean to the northwestern United States, Walla Walla University in Washington was where Shernette began those formative years in her in civil engineering education. But thanks to the candor of one of her advisors, who observed that no one was really focused on civil engineering in the early 1990s, she quickly shifted her studies based upon his counsel.
"Mechanical engineering really laid the groundwork that I use today because it’s a versatile discipline that is all about solving problems," Shernette explained. "It was about seeing it all the way through to the actual manufacturing of a product that would solve a problem. I always loved having that sense of satisfaction of seeing a product or project go from conception to completion."
Having relocated to the east coast and finishing her engineering degree at City College in New York, Shernette found herself working through the Edison Engineering Development Program with General Electric (GE). This rotational program gave her an exposure to a variety of areas in the company to determine where she wanted to concentrate. So, where does a young, Black female mechanical engineer from the Virgin Islands end up? At a nuclear facility in Wilmington, N.C.
Given the long time necessary to develop nuclear products, such as 10 to 15 years for a nuclear core, it became clear that she wouldn’t get that satisfaction of seeing a completed project very often. Shernette realized that the world of quality and process improvement within GE was her calling. "Six Sigma is how they worked with an emphasis on efficiencies and reducing defects," she said. "All these years later that’s the same approach I strive to continue leading at Cook Children’s."
Those years were valuable and educational as she navigated an environment where there truly were few people who looked like her.
"While studying mechanical engineering, in some cases, I was the only female in that class but not the only minority," Shernette recalled. "But at that particular nuclear plant in North Carolina, I was the only minority woman sitting at the table with the engineers. That was a rare thing but not one that I shied away from. That’s because of my mother.
"She raised us to be very mindful and knowledgeable of who you are. Don’t let the environment define who you are. You know that for yourself and do what you want to do. Once again that determination and toughness of my mom came through."
After a few years in North Carolina as a "little island" with just herself, husband and two kids, the tug at heart for her family began to pull a little tighter. While tough, Shernette knew that she wanted her own kids to have that same strong relationship with her family. Her mother recently had moved to Mansfield, Texas, and most of her siblings began to follow suit. In 2006, it was their time and they packed up to make the trip to North Texas.
It was here that the parallels between mother and daughter became undeniable. While looking for an engineering job, Shernette was approached to teach math at the Burton Academy in Arlington. She agreed to it as a part-time option until she could find a permanent engineering position. That one year turned into seven years.
"My mother, who was an elementary school teacher, always joked that none of her six kids became a teacher," she said. "But that wasn’t the case now and she was very excited. It’s funny because eventually three of the six of us would become teachers."
Shernette admits that she fell in love with teaching and being able to connect with these young students. "Having them see and tap into the potential they have is so rewarding," Shernette said. "It’s almost like the PI approach, where you fix something if you understand its current state. Laying that good foundation or repairing the existing foundation will put them on a path to be more successful."
Eventually in 2013, when the opportunity presented itself to join the Process Improvement team here at Cook Children’s, she jumped at the chance. "It was the merging of both of my worlds into one," she explained. "It brings together the love I had for the process improvement skills I learned at GE and then that same passion I had just uncovered for teaching."
Those quality principles she developed at GE are the model for how she wants our own Process Improvement team to operate. "For me, ‘Process Improvement’ isn’t just this one department," Shernette shared. "My goal is that we have an extension of our department in every employee. They are empowered to help solve the problems that they recognize through the methods and approaches we teach."
For an engineer, who became a teacher, to end up in health care is actually not too surprising for a woman like Shernette.
It’s easy to see that there is a legacy of helping people, teaching people and wanting to better those around her. After all, for Shernette, she is Frankie’s daughter. She is Iona’s daughter. She is also Cook Children’s.