When Kay Een ’02 was a kid, she called many places home.
Her dad was in the military and stationed around the world, from Okinawa to Greece to Hawaii.
And with each assignment, the family would pack up, pick up and move someplace new. Een got accustomed to change, but she also found something that always stayed the same: her love of Patricia Cornwell novels. The crime author’s delicious tales of murder and mystery fascinated her.
And eventually, they would help drive her to a successful career in forensic sciences.
But first, Een said, she had some “growing up to do.”
Finding Her Passion
After graduating from high school, Een wasn’t quite ready to jump into college so she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the military. She chose the Navy and was trained as an air traffic controller. It was fulfilling, fast-paced work, but Een was looking for new ways to grow.
So when she was stationed in Hawaii, she decided to enroll at Chaminade University.
She initially got her associate’s degree. And then after leaving active service, she returned to Chaminade to continue her education and complete her bachelor’s degree. She majored in Forensic Sciences, rekindling her desire to immerse herself in crime scene investigation and evidence analysis.
At Chaminade, she also found a place where she could thrive as a nontraditional student.
“I loved the connections I made with professors. There was a camaraderie I was able to develop with them,” she said. “I also really enjoyed the fact that a lot of the younger students really looked up to us older students from a life experience perspective. We could offer our shared experiences.”
But what really set Chaminade apart, Een said, was its focus on hands-on learning.
She loved every minute of mock crime scene investigations and staged witness interviews, and couldn’t get enough of the time she spent in forensic sciences labs, either. “You really got to see the work through the eyes of police officers,” she said. “It was really fascinating—and I was hooked.”
That experiential learning continued with an internship that had Een over the moon.
A Career at NCIS
She got the chance to work with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) for two semesters, and suddenly found her dream job. “They had me doing real work. We were going to crime scenes, collecting evidence, I went to autopsies,” Een said. “I got to know that this was really for me.”
Een loved the work so much that she applied to NCIS after graduation in 2002. But about that same time, as the U.S. bolstered military actions in the Middle East, Een was activated from the Navy Reserves and deployed to Qatar. She was there for about six months as a Navy air crew member.
After she returned to Hawaii, she got the call she had been waiting for: NCIS wanted to interview her.
She was hired in short order for the agency, and before she had little more than a moment to take a breath, she was assigned to general crimes and conducting investigations. “It was a great first tour,” she said. “I really got to sink my teeth into understanding what the agency and my role was all about.”
Een’s next assignment with NCIS was in Okinawa, a place where she’d lived as a kid.
She is also half-Japanese, and has family on her mother’s side in mainland Japan.
Een was assigned to the family and sexual violence unit and spent three years in Okinawa.
While there, she met her future husband, a Marine. They now have two children together—10-year-old Kenji and 7-year-old Cora. And from Okinawa, the couple was able to co-locate their careers to new locales. They’ve moved five times so far, including to Washington, D.C. and back to Okinawa.
Along the way, Een also received several promotions.
Inclusion and Diversity in NCIS
“That was the most amazing thing about NCIS. I didn’t have to choose between being a mom and promoting or progressing in the agency. At the end of the day, I was presented with the right opportunities and was able to progress my military career. That’s so important,” she said.
Een now serves as the chief diversity and inclusion officer for NCIS, a role that’s kept her passionate about her career and agency. She said her focus is on making NCIS the strongest it can be and attracting and retaining the best talent. “If you don’t have equity and you don’t have inclusion, you don’t have diversity,” she said. “We need to use this canvas of people we have to the best of their abilities.”
As she marks 18 years with NCIS, Een says it hasn’t all been roses.
About 10 years into her career with the agency, with her husband deployed, Een said she almost left when she felt as if she was being asked to choose between being a mom and being an agent. But a candid conversation with her superiors allowed her to stick with it—and she’s grateful she did.
Een added she doesn’t want that experience to happen to others.
“I was fortunate that the agency picked me up and changed my trajectory,” she said. “But I really think that shouldn’t happen to anybody else. It shouldn’t be luck or chance to determine whether or not I stayed with this agency. What if I hadn’t had that conversation? Where would I be today?”
And it’s that experience that got her interested in equity in the first place.
Een started serving as a member of the NCIS director’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion in 2014. And when her current role opened up, she immediately put her name in the hat. “This is what I want to do because I genuinely believe that our organization is wonderful and we do really good things,” she said. “Our director believes in cultural diversity and he believes in people. I want to support that.”
And if you’re wondering if Een is a fan of the “NCIS” TV series, too, the answer is yes.
The last time she was in the islands, she got to visit the “NCIS: Hawaii” set and “totally fangirled.”
She’s also excited she might have more opportunities to swing by. Sixteen years after leaving, Een will be moving back to Hawaii with her family and continuing in her current role with NCIS remotely. “It’s something that we’ve always said, that Hawaii was where we’d like to go some day,” Een said. “It’s always been a touchtone and now it’s happening. We’re thrilled.”