Defense executive gives back locally

Published: Feb 1, 2023 3:05 PM

By Bethany Deuel

“Innovation requires discomfort. You have to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable,” said Kuan Collins, the executive director for digital innovation at Axient in Huntsville.

Collins, who holds an executive doctorate in business administration, has experienced this discomfort as a woman in technology throughout her more than 20-year career that has taken her across the U.S.

Though she knew little about engineering as a child, Collins excelled at math and science, so she pursued a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park. At the time, she was one of two female students in the program.

“When I was going through school, there were so many boys that sometimes I wondered ‘should I even be here?’ It was very difficult. I was by no means a straight-A student. But because there were so many people around telling me to quit, I was determined to finish,” she said.

After working in positions with Analytic Services and Booz Allen, Collins served as the chief engineer for satellite subsystems at L3 Technologies where she worked in the manufacturing sector for the first time. Tasked with modernizing the engineering process there, she learned how to manage the discomfort brought about by change.

Collins then took on a contract at Science Applications International Corporation Inc. (SAIC) where she spent the next 20 years of her career. There, she worked on revolutionary projects and became known as an innovator within the company after opening the company’s office in Austin, Texas. After traveling frequently between Austin and Huntsville, Alabama on a NASA contract, Collins and her family made the full-time jump to Huntsville so she could open the SAIC innovation campus there. Each of these positions, Collins said, led her to her position today with Axient.

“It’s been a lot of fun. The people are really cool, and we do a lot of amazing engineering work. Because it’s a small group, the domain expertise is deep. We are so specialized in the things we do for NASA, missile defense, the army, the Air Force and the Navy. My job is to help figure out how to modernize the way that we deliver our capabilities. Career-wise it’s just been very rewarding that everything I have done so far has come together for me,” she said.

Shortly after moving to Huntsville, Collins connected with 100+ Women Strong, the force to recruit retain and reward women in engineering at Auburn. Driven by a desire to give back locally and support women in engineering, she began giving and serving through the group.

“I feel like I have a real network that is very supportive and enriching,” Collins said. “Of all the things that I have in my life, besides my family, working and supporting women is what brings me joy. When I see the impact that I can have on other women just by existing in this field and can share what I do, it makes me truly happy.”  

In recognition of her giving, Collins is now a lifetime member of 100+ Women Strong and will address female Auburn Engineering students on campus this February with hopes to share with them the importance of representation, diversity and discomfort. 

“We’re not done,” she said. “We’re far from done. There are not enough women in this field. There are not enough women who want to be in this field, and we need them so desperately. We need the message to be ‘yes, we are female, and we are engineers and we love it.’ That will help other women recognize that there are other women in this field who are thriving and successful. 

“I want my giving to be representative of my commitment and the commitment that we should all have. I think it should be a symbol of our commitment to women who want to do a technical job, bring their unique style and perspective and promote their representation.”

Media Contact: Bethany Deuel,, 334.844.5519
Kuan Collins

Kuan Collins

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