Where are they now? Electrical engineering suits Sandra Kjono
Editor’s Note: This is one in the Sentinel’s “Where Are They Now?” series about Ramona graduates—where they are and what they are doing.
By Karen Brainard
Since graduating from Ramona High School 13 years ago, Sandra Kjono has earned two academic degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University, served in the military and attained the rank of lieutenant, been involved with military research projects, and will soon be working on her doctorate.
The Class of 2000 grad chose her path partly due to the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship she received at Ramona High, where she served as commanding officer her senior year.
That scholarship facilitated her attendance at Stanford University, a place where she felt she belonged.
While visiting Stanford, Kjono sat in on a small discussion group. Although she usually stayed quiet in such groups, she found herself adding to the discussion and, to her surprise, other students built on her comments.
“Something I had been looking for all my life and I found it,” she said, adding, “The students were all very welcoming.”
Kjono chose the field of electrical engineering because math and science suited her. After earning her Bachelor of Science, she was commissioned in the Navy as an ensign.
“Because of NROTC, I knew I would be in the military for four years.”
As a helicopter pilot, Kjono said she really enjoyed her military experience.
“Being a Jack-of-all- trades kind of person was a good fit for me,” she said. “The personalities of the people I worked with fit well with my personality, too.”
Her training included anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, combat search and rescue, and vertical replenishment — dropping supplies from a helicopter. Stationed in Florida and Oklahoma, she also traveled to Korea and Japan for military exercises. While in Japan, she hiked to the top of Mount Fuji.
Kjono served in the military for five years and then went to work as a civilian electrical engineer at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, a Department of Navy research lab in Point Loma. For one of Kjono’s classified projects, she submitted a patent that was endorsed by Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and could be approved soon.
“Doing research and development at SPAWAR was a pretty fulfilling experience, but I knew I wanted to pursue an advanced education,” she said.
After two years, Kjono took a leave of absence from SSC Pacific and returned to Stanford where she graduated in June with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Next will be her doctorate for which she plans to focus on optics.
Kjono said she wants to create a diagnostic tool for optical biopsies that would allow a doctor to look into delicate tissues without cutting.
“I feel electrical engineering can do a lot to help the medical field and evolve it,” said Kjono.
The advanced degree could open other new doors, such as becoming a research professor. Throughout her schooling and work, Kjono has found time to volunteer. While in high school she taught English as a second language at the pregnancy clinic. She also tutored people with dyslexia.
“They helped me to see that maybe teaching could be a future possibility. It’s one of the reasons I applied to get a Ph.D.,” she said.
Other volunteer projects have included working with the Native American community and the Native American Cultural Center at Stanford. Kjono’s father, Olav, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, grew up on a Mohawk reservation in Quebec, a place she enjoyed spending summers and hanging out with her cousins.
Because her father was in the Navy, Kjono said she moved about every two years as a child and has lived in all four corners of the United States. Her family moved to Ramona in 1998.
For now, Kjono is staying put at Stanford and hopes to earn her doctorate in four years.
Readers with the name of and contact information for a Ramona graduate for the “Where Are They Now?” series may email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 760-789-1350.
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