Karen Brann: Assistant to Dr. Vijay Kumar and Associate Director, Research and Publications, GRASP Lab

7/24/2014 4:59:00 PM

Three years ago, Karen Brann was a stay-at-home mom looking for a way to test the workplace waters. So she signed on as a temp with the Penn Job Center, managed by UA Staffing. Now she's the Assistant to Dr. Vijay Kumar and Associate Director of Research and Publications at the GRASP Lab.

Three years ago, Karen Brann was a stay-at-home mom looking for a way to test the workplace waters.

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Employment at Penn appealed to her, but she wanted to make sure that reentering the workforce would mesh with her family life. So she signed on as a temp with the Penn Job Center, managed by UA Staffing. Her experiment resulted in a permanent position as an administrative coordinator within Penn Engineering’s Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics department. From there, she recently moved on to become Assistant to Dr. Vijay Kumar and Associate Director of Research and Publications at the GRASP Lab.

“UA Staffing was very supportive and helpful,” says Karen. At first, they gave her a three-month post with a business office at the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS) which exposed her to many fascinating groups like the Positive Psychology Center. These “cool programs,” as she calls them, along with the collaborative environment, strengthened her interest in permanent work at Penn. As the SAS job was winding down, UA Staffing presented Karen with an opportune temp-to-permanent prospect.

Penn Engineering was looking for an administrative coordinator with the right organizational skills to support the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program along with the Nanotechnology and Energy Commercialization Institutes. After interviewing with key players from these teams, Karen started the job on a temporary basis in January 2012. By March, they hired her as a full-fledged staff member.

After establishing a routine, Karen added new projects to her responsibilities. She coordinated and marketed a nanotechnology workshop and developed and implemented a social media plan for the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program. Building on those accomplishments, she was able to take on a new position as assistant to Dr. Vijay Kumar and Associate Director of Research and Publications in the GRASP Lab.

An admitted “geek at heart,” Karen loves being close to cutting-edge technology such as the quadrotor micro aerial robots and award-winning robotic Titan Arm.

Karen’s formula for success is simple. She acknowledges that some of it comes down to being in the right place at the right time, but it’s wise to be prepared. “If someone hires you for a temporary assignment, even for one week, take it seriously. Show up on time and do the job effectively and with enthusiasm.” Karen’s positive attitude matches her colleagues’ intensity. Although each professor has a different specialty and style, they’re all passionate about teaching and research. “You don’t get tired when you work with people like that because you can feed off that energy,” Karen says.

Outside of her everyday job, Karen takes advantage of Penn’s extensive library system to support her reading habit, and has used Penn’s tuition benefit to take classes at Penn’s Graduate School of Education and the School of Social Policy & Practice. In the not-too-distant future, she hopes to put the tuition benefit to additional use to fulfill the higher education goals of her three children. In her words, “Penn is a great place to work and a great place to learn.”