About Us: Karmel James

Karmel James is COMPASS’ coordinator, a role she describes as part stagehand and part helmsman. She says, “I work behind the curtain to make sure that the COMPASS experience is great for everyone we interact with. I manage the logistics of events and scheduling, and ensure that our DC office is running smoothly and on course.”

Karmel’s work at COMPASS is the latest chapter in her commitment to making science understood and embraced by non- scientists, a commitment that began with the science “magic shows” she performed at libraries to make science exciting and accessible for kids and their parents. Karmel says, “My goal is to show how science is not only important, it’s familiar. The principles and values that guide science are ones that we use everyday as we make decisions about what to do, what to buy, etc. And what I love about working at COMPASS is that we work not just with one specific issue, but towards a larger goal of ensuring that science is even more widely used and appreciated.”

More about Karmel:

Where did you grow up?

We were a military family, so I always answer that question with a list: born in Minnesota, lived in Maryland, raised in Delaware, specifically in New Castle – a city 10 minutes outside of Wilmington. Growing up in a small neighborhood – only 13 houses surrounded by woods – we played a lot outside. My brother, neighbors, and I built forts out of brambles, played kick the can in the cul-de-sac, and in the winter traipsed down the frozen creek behind our house in snowsuits.

Karmel greeting freshmen as an RA at University of Mary Washington's orientation week.

Karmel greeting freshmen as a resident assistant at University of Mary Washington’s orientation week.

What did you think you would want to be when you were growing up?

I went to a vocational high school and enrolled in the program focusing on preparing students for careers in law. I got a lot of great work experience through that program, and learned the basic structure of an office and how to draft legal documents like briefs and memorandums. I thought I would be either a lawyer or a teacher, but I knew that if I wanted to study law, I could choose any major as an undergraduate. I choose chemistry because it would push my boundaries, but still be in an area of interest. I always gravitated toward science and math.

How did you land at COMPASS?

While I really enjoyed the research I did as a chemistry student at the University of Mary Washington, research wasn’t what I wanted to pursue, at least not right away. I always had a real passion for event planning. As an undergrad, I was extremely active in planning weekly events like concerts, game nights, bingo, etc. Being behind the scenes was the most exciting part of it for me – even more exciting than the event itself.  It was always fun to see how much joy I had brought to people.

After graduation, I was looking to combine science with my passion for planning by coordinating activities and logistics for a scientific community. I was really excited to find this opportunity at COMPASS.

A taste of Karmel's delicious handiwork.

A taste of Karmel’s delicious handiwork.

What would you be doing if you weren’t at COMPASS?

I’m 85% sure I would have been a pastry chef. I love baking and learning about proper cooking techniques. Baking and chemistry actually have a lot in common. I do a fair amount of experimentation through trial and error; it’s about getting the right ingredients (or reactants) in the right conditions and seeing what happens.

Cakes, cookies, and brownies are fine but I especially love making anything red-velvet ­– one of my specialties is red-velvet doughnuts with cherries and cream cheese icing.

What do you do in your free time? 

When I’m not baking, I’m probably listening to music. I’ve always been very into jazz, and I like to dance as well. Here’s a playlist of some of my favorite songs. I’m also very involved in the Mary Washington alumni association and currently I’m planning to start a blog for the DC network.

What’s the last book you read?

I recently read Persuader by Lee Child. It’s a murder mystery. I like books with action, a preference that began when I was a kid, with weekly trips to the Costco book aisle.

I also read a fair number of science books. I like to go back and brush up on my chemistry skills, so I recently reread one of my textbooks on spectroscopy analysis. It’s much more fun to analyze NMR spectra problems when I know I don’t have a test approaching.} else {


  1. Karmel is a gem!!!

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