Forensic engineer

Forensic engineer

Candi Hudson, '88, PhD

Like many members of her Chicago Police Department family, Candi Hudson, '88, solves cases. But instead of solving crimes, she sleuths out the root causes of accidents.

"I grew up in that environment where my family always sat at the kitchen table trying to put clues together," says Hudson, who is a forensic engineer. As the systems reliability section chief for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, she says, "It's just deeply ingrained in me to find that needle in the haystack."

After graduating from Lab, Hudson earned her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Bradley University, and, while pursuing an advanced degree from the HBCU Prairie View A&M University, she became the second woman to earn an MS in mechanical engineering in the school's history. As she worked toward her master's degree, she was awarded a NASA Texas Space Grant and received a US Department of Education GAANN Fellowship. As a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program fellow, Hudson completed her doctorate program in materials science and engineering and received a PhD from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Hudson always has a suitcase packed for the last minute calls that routinely take her offshore, sometimes by a two-hour helicopter ride into the Gulf of Mexico or off the California coast, or to a forensics lab in Houston. Working in the oil and gas industry, she analyzes everything from failures in the operation of large cranes to small bolts. These jobs require her to be onsite from as briefly has a few hours to days at a time.

"I'm always given the impossible cases, so everything is enjoyable," she says.

What she hasn't enjoyed is the discrimination that comes with being a female of color in a male-dominated STEM field. Repeatedly throughout her career, she's been told to go home and have children, or that she's not qualified because of her gender or complexion. She traces her confidence back to her 12 years at Lab and the solid foundation in math and science she received there. This background gave her the self-confidence to ignore the doubters and naysayers and do her job.

It takes skill to assess technical elements in conjunction with human factors. To do it, Hudson relies on her research and materials background from her time working as a NASA fellow and then at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. This training helps her understand the behavior and performance of certain materials in a particular environment coupled with stressors like heat, pressure, electricity, chemistry, and fatigue.

The investigation that affected her most was when she had to determine why the wires of a crane snapped, leading to the death of a young oil rig worker. The 19-year-old had been working offshore at the time to earn extra money for college. Hudson determined that the break was due to corrosion, leading to a loss of integrity and strength in the rope. The equipment was too old and hadn't been maintained properly.

"It's my duty to help people and find answers," says Hudson. "That's why I lose sleep. It's my way of helping families get these answers."

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