Women Engineers You Should Know

Quite often, those who are behind the scenes and out of the limelight, make real change in the workplace and in our communities. It is our intention to recognize such women and make their efforts better known.
Women Engineers You Should Know

This article was first published in the SWE Magazine Spring 2016 Issue.
By Anne Perusek, Director of Editorial and Publications

Quite often, those who are behind the scenes and out of the limelight, make real change in the workplace and in our communities. It is our intention to recognize such women and make their efforts better known.

Casting a wide net, SWE Magazine staff and editorial board sought contemporary women whose lives have embodied the Society’s mission to: “stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity.” Through a variety of means including fielding suggestions and conducting archival research, we examined the stories of many women who have made a difference in these critical areas.

Determining a final list was a daunting challenge, and our selections are in no way meant to be definitive. While some names you may recognize, very few are “household names,” familiar to most people. From a variety of perspectives, in different environments and moments in time, these women represent “ordinary” women doing “extraordinary” things. In saluting them, we are saluting all the women, known and unknown, past and present, who have advanced our mission.

Mabel Esteves-Velázquez, P.E., F.SWE
SWE Fellow Mabel Esteves-Velázquez, P.E., F.SWE, was a charter member of the SWE student section at her alma mater, the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, as well as a charter member of the Puerto Rico Section. She also chaired the 1988 SWE national student conference, held in San Juan.

A registered professional engineer in Puerto Rico, Esteves-Velázquez relocated to Roseville, California, upon being hired by Hewlett-Packard Roseville Networks Division. There, in conjunction with her SWE activities, Esteves-Velázquez supported the development of future engineers by serving as a mentor, role model, and technical contributor. She chartered the Sierra Foothills Section, chaired the Society-level minority concerns committee and the national space camp committee, and served on the SWE board of directors.

An electrical engineer by training, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Esteves-Velázquez developed her expertise in the quality arena. On two occasions, she was the first woman engineer hired by her employers, and early in her career submitted two patent disclosures.

Notably, in addition to the demands of her professional life, Esteves-Velázquez raised her two nephews, Enrique and Emmanuel, to adulthood, and both have followed her footsteps into engineering. Esteves-Velázquez died in 2008. Among the many tributes posted on a memorial website in her honor were these: “She demonstrated that you could be an excellent engineer and warm human being at the same time” and “Her positive attitude and can-do spirit led her to see the potential in all of us around her.”

Alma Kuppinger Forman, P.E., F.SWE
As the first woman to earn a degree in civil engineering from Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University), Alma Kuppinger Forman, P.E., F.SWE, was part of the small group that met in the Philadelphia area during the late 1940s, laying groundwork for what would become the Society of Women Engineers. A founding member of SWE, Forman graduated from Drexel in 1949, the same year she approached the school’s president, seeking funds to organize the first student conference of women engineers. In April, she chaired the conference, which took place at Drexel. A little more than one year later, Forman attended the historic gathering at the Cooper Union’s Green Engineering Camp, where the Society of Women Engineers was founded as a national organization.

Forman’s long career included work in government, industry, and academia and consistent involvement in SWE. She became a licensed professional engineer in Pennsylvania in 1959 and made significant contributions to applications for engineering graphics in industry and medicine, including footwear manufacturing and in detecting heart stress. She also pioneered the use of 3-D modeling in the classroom.

Early in her career, Forman was a cartographer and created maps from aerial photographs. In the 1960s, she started a consulting company so she could have the flexibility to care for her young family. By the mid-1970s, Forman began teaching at various institutions, including Drexel and Temple University, where she encouraged the students to form a SWE section. She remained the faculty advisor to the section there until her retirement in 1995.

Forman was named a SWE Fellow in 2010. 

Evelyn Vernick Fowler
SWE founding member Evelyn Vernick Fowler participated in the meeting at Camp Green on May 27, 1950, the day the Society was established. Fowler had graduated from the Pratt Institute School of Art in 1942 and had returned there to study chemical engineering. Fowler is the 13th member of the Society, and later became secretary-treasurer of the American Actuator Corp. of New York, which manufactured safety equipment for sheet metal fabricating machinery. She has lived in Connecticut for more than 60 years.

To communicate the spirit of the early days of SWE, Fowler recalls a time when she was one of the few members with a driver’s license. For residents of the New York City metro area, such as she and many of the early members, not having a driver’s license was far from unusual. The effort to build the membership from the ground up and with little infrastructure, however, required many meetings and much organizing, plus personal dedication.

And so it was that a meeting took place just before Thanksgiving at a restaurant in Manhattan. “I had picked up some of the people,” she said. “And I was very pregnant with my #2 child. I think I was the only one who drove, then.” Putting the passage of time and the growth of SWE in perspective, “that #2 child is now 65,” she added.

Allison Goodman
A principal engineer in the Solid State Drives and Memory Division at Intel, Allison Goodman is the only employee currently serving on the Intel Foundation board of directors, selected from among hundreds of candidates. Goodman is a longtime advocate for gender diversity in STEM, as evidenced in her involvement as chair of the Women at Intel Network and her dedication to the Society of Women Engineers. At Intel, she has facilitated networking and mentoring opportunities, and provided professional development workshops for fellow employees at the Sacramento site.

Goodman has served as SWE Region A governor (encompassing Hawaii, Northern California, Northern Nevada, and Pacific Island Territories), Region A outreach representative, and president of the Sierra Foothills Section, as well as many other positions.

Whether in visible roles or behind the scenes, Goodman has actively encouraged youth to pursue engineering studies, and mentored many women to develop successful careers. She has made it a priority to nominate women for awards, ensuring that women engineers receive the recognition that is deserved and, at the same time, raising the profile of women in the profession.

Goodman earned her B.S. in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University, graduating with honors. She is the daughter of engineers — her father is a chemical engineer and her mom is an architectural engineer. Goodman is married to another Cornell graduate and resides in Sacramento. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, cooking, and walking the couple’s dog, Weimaraner.

Courtney Gras
Electrical engineer Courtney Gras began to explore ways to combine her technical abilities with an entrepreneurial vision while an undergraduate at The University of Akron. When she graduated in 2013, she had already co-founded Design Flux Technologies with a UA graduate student, Tom Vo. Together, they developed technology for a power management system for batteries — the first of its kind.

For her efforts, Gras was recently recognized as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in the energy sector. She and the other honorees were chosen for “perfecting innovations that could lead to new sources of low-carbon energy and massive energy savings.”

The Design Flux website describes the technology and founding of the company:

“Design Flux Technologies, LLC is a spin-out company from The University of Akron, and was co-founded by two electrical engineering students in 2011. Frustrated with the complexity and discontinuity in energy storage systems, these two students surrounded themselves with a team of experienced business advisors, engineering professors, and other colleagues to formulate a new paradigm in power management. The result of these efforts was the conceptualization of Cognicell: the first software-defined solution to the complex power management ecosystem.”

At the same time that Gras has worked on developing her company, she has also held positions with NASA Glenn Research Center as a power systems engineer and, more recently, as the sales manager for USA Firmware LLC.

Gras serves on the community advisory council for The University of Akron’s Experiential Learning Center for Entrepreneurship and Civic Engagement. She also is on the board of Launch League, a nonprofit organization that supports founders of technology-based start-ups.

Ashley Johnston
A fascinating combination of careers that would not have been possible at any earlier time in history is the province of Ashley Johnston’s daily life. She is a mechanical engineer at Precision Valve and Automation in Cohoes, New York, during typical working hours, and a professional hockey player otherwise — breaking new ground in both professions. Johnston began playing hockey at a young age in her hometown of Burlington, Ontario, outside of Toronto. She graduated from Union College, Schenectady, New York, on a hockey scholarship in 2014, playing defense on the Division One team there.

While at Union, Johnston learned of a family whose young daughter would need to have her prosthetic leg replaced approximately every two years, which is standard practice. For her senior project, Johnston developed an adjustable prosthetic that would grow with the child, providing an alternative to periodic replacements. Johnston’s efforts made her a finalist in the NCAA Hockey Humanitarian Award. The video explaining both her project and her engineering goals can be viewed here.

Johnston is currently the captain for the Brooklyn-based New York Riveters, a member of the National Women’s Hockey League, which just completed its first season. When signed to the team, Johnston said in an interview with the National Women’s Hockey League, “This is a huge step for women’s hockey — the first paid professional hockey league — to be a part of that is very humbling and I’m pretty honored.”

Shirley C. McCarty, F. SWE
During Shirley C. McCarty’s student days at the University of North Dakota, the engineering school was so steeped in the assumption that women would not study engineering that the building had no female bathroom facilities. McCarty majored in business with a focus on economics and graduated in 1958.

McCarty began her career in 1960 as a computer programmer at Douglas Aircraft Co., moving to The Aerospace Corporation in 1962 and remaining there until her “first retirement,” taking on a variety of leadership positions. These included principal director of the software engineering subdivision, which provided a broad spectrum of computer and software support, and principal director of the resource allocation and evaluation office, as well as other pivotal roles. She is proud of both the technical contributions of the organizations she directed and the way in which these organizations influenced change and redefined the possibilities for technical women in traditionally male-dominated fields.

A self-identified feminist, McCarty described this stance as: “a person (female or male) desiring to put the female of the species on par — educationally, occupationally, economically, sexually, and spiritually — with her male counterparts.”

McCarty has served on national software committees and has been a frequent speaker on technical topics as well as educational outreach and professional development for women in engineering. To ensure that younger generations of women have access to the profession and leadership roles, McCarty served on the industrial advisory board of the Society of Women Engineers at Purdue University, and the advisory council for the School of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Northridge. An active member of the SWE Los Angeles Section, she was named a SWE Fellow in 1995.

At the invitation of then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, McCarty testified before the congressional Glass Ceiling Commission in 1994.

Catherine F. Pieronek, J.D., F.SWE
Associate dean in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame and director of the women in engineering program there, Catherine F. Pieronek, J.D., F.SWE, died suddenly in April 2015. She was 52 years old. Pieronek had established successful careers in aerospace engineering and law, and made significant, lasting contributions to engineering education and policy, particularly for women in engineering, and to the public understanding of Title IX as applied to STEM education.

Pieronek graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, taking a position with TRW, where she advanced to senior staff engineer in the spacecraft systems engineering division. Working full time, she earned her M.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. She was the sole systems engineer responsible for system-level design verification, development, and analysis for the communications subsystem of the NASA Compton Gamma Ray Observatory spacecraft.

Returning to Notre Dame to study law, Pieronek graduated magna cum laude in 1995 and began working in the law school. In 2002, she moved to the College of Engineering to direct the Women’s Engineering Program. Under her leadership, the percentage of female engineering graduates rose from 21 percent in 2002 to 33 percent by 2014. She played a key role in implementing programs to recruit and retain women in engineering, including an active SWE section and peer mentoring, thereby changing the culture at Notre Dame.

Pieronek wrote many articles about Title IX applied to gender equity in STEM, as well as engineering education, student recruitment and retention, and women in engineering. As chair of SWE’s government relations and public policy committee, she led the Society’s efforts to develop policy statements regarding Title IX and engineering education.

Linda M.S. Thomas, F.SWE
A native of Washington, D.C., Linda M.S. Thomas, F.SWE, received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Howard University and a master’s degree in systems architecture and engineering from the University of Southern California. A longtime employee of The Boeing Company, she is currently a Boeing Associate Technical Fellow and system safety engineer. A recognized system safety expert and chemical risk integration manager, she supports all the defense, space, and security programs in the company, and has represented Boeing on several national and international environmental committees.

Thomas is a senior life member of SWE and was named a SWE Fellow in 2013. As a student, she joined the Howard University Collegiate Section and began to make her mark by organizing events that raised the profile of women in engineering. Since 1997, she has served the Pacific Northwest Section in numerous positions, served as the Region J governor and lieutenant governor, and served on the Society level as director of regions.

Thomas has been an active volunteer in the Issaquah School District, where her son is a student, and in 2008 coordinated a visit by the first Romanian cosmonaut to several neighborhood schools. She serves on the school district’s STEM advisory board and teaches an engineering orientation class at South Seattle College.

As someone who quietly goes about doing great things without any fanfare, Thomas enjoys spending family time with her husband and son. She is an accomplished musician, playing the clarinet and bass clarinet.

Paula B. Wells, Ph.D., P.E.
Paula Wells, Ph.D., P.E., holds several distinctions — from being the first woman to graduate from the University of Nebraska with an engineering degree to raising a very large family while growing her own successful company. At age 80, she is still running her company, The Wells Resource LLC, and says she has another 20 years to go as a practicing engineer.

Dr. Wells earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1957; a master’s in structural engineering in 1968; and her Ph.D. in industrial engineering in 1984.

Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Dr. Wells’ company has evolved over the years. At its peak, Wells Engineering employed 50 people and had offices in Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, and Phoenix, as well as Omaha. At this point, The Wells Resource LLC is a smaller operation, based in Omaha with a single office and employing six. In 2011, Dr. Wells’ husband, Jim, retired from his job and joined her company, which has seen steady growth.

A registered professional engineer in eight states, Dr. Wells has served as editor and publisher of The Nebraska Engineer, the publication of the Nebraska Society of Professional Engineers, and as director to the state board of NSPE. An elder in the Presbyterian church, she served on the Omaha Presbytery task force on women, and in many other professional and civic capacities.

The parents of three biological children, the Wells adopted 14 children from 1968 to 2003. The youngest is now 15. Dr. Wells maintains that having her own firm has been essential to managing work/life integration issues and the needs of such a large family. Her sage advice on this matter can be found elsewhere in this issue, as she is featured in the article “Insights from SWE Business Owners,” beginning on page 28.