“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”
That quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is a favorite of Dr. Katherine Gaulke, CEO and structural engineer at Sigma Metals and owner of Katherine Marie Photography.
Dr. Gaulke lives that philosophy at Sigma Metals, a company that designs, fabricates and installs ornamental and structural components for residential and commercial properties, and in her personal life.
According to her nominator, “Katherine inspires others to break barriers, work hard and give back. She has one-on-one mentored many men and women over the last 24 years. She feels calls to impact individual hearts and collectively uplift society as a whole.”
Dr. Gaulke grew up in an Army family. As a girl, she loved to dance, and spent a short time as a professional ballerina.
“I soon found out that was not what God wanted for me,” she said.
She went to the University of Virginia on an ROTC scholarship and earned a bachelor of science in civil engineering. After graduation, she was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force, which sent her to the University of California, Berkeley, for her master’s in civil engineering.
Later, she earned a Ph.D. in structural engineering at the University of Maryland. She did her doctoral research at the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen, Md., on explosive technology for crew protection in armored vehicles.
Dr. Gaulke retired from the Air Force as a major in 2012. Her husband, whom she met while both were serving in Korea, “was tired of working for big companies and traveling all over the world,” she said. They started looking for a small business in the Springs area and in 2013 acquired Sigma Metals.
Dr. Gaulke and her husband, the company’s COO, have steered projects that include nearly $20M+ of metal fabrication and installation in the city and surrounding area with new schools, churches, hospitals, banks, restaurants, apartments, local businesses, military command centers/gates and miscellaneous infrastructure..
The Gaulkes and their two daughters have lived in Colorado Springs for 11 years. They found it hard to beat the area’s good schools, patriotic and sports-minded population, great business opportunities and natural beauty.
She has the mind of a scientist, but Dr. Gaulke missed the fulfillment she felt as a dancer. She found a creative outlet in photography.
“Photography was first a therapeutic tool I used to get through a rough patch in my life,” she said, “but photography is the perfect marriage of technology and art.”
Most of her photography clients are women. She works with female entrepreneurs to create branding images and shoots portraits of women alone or with children.
“So many women struggle with looking at themselves with loving eyes,” she said. “Women are judged so much more harshly than men in terms of how we look. … I had to be part of the narrative.”
Women also struggle with trying to balance family, their personal and professional lives.
“I find when people are preoccupied with looking for balance — the notion that opposing forces are fighting for equilibrium — they feel torn,” she said. “I don’t believe in balance. I only believe in harmony.”
Dr. Gaulke also serves with numerous local volunteer and professional organizations.
Most of her work is with STEM outreach, the vibrant Colorado Springs arts scene and gender equality — something she feels strongly about because of personal experience.
“I recently had an incident on a job site where a male project manager was physically and verbally condescending, because I was young and female,” she said. “It brought up so many feelings of disappointment and inadequacy. … I have struggled with the feeling that I never quite fit in, but I’m super gritty and super stubborn, and I’m not going to let those old memories stifle my ability to grow.”
For the past four years, Dr. Gaulke has been asked to speak to civil engineering graduates at the Air Force Academy. She tells them, “Don’t overthink things; go for it with purposeful action.”
Her succinct advice to young women: “You are enough.”
— Jeanne Davant