Earlier in June, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my long-time mentors at SWE-Jill Tietjen! She was National President from 1991 to 1992. We’ve known each other for almost seven years now, a testament to the the enduring networks that we form at SWE.
1. Tell us about your background. Why did you choose mathematics, and later to pursue an MBA?
When I was filling out my college application to the University of Virginia, I had a choice as to which school I should apply to. No one, not even my PhD engineer father, suggested to me that I should consider engineering. I loved calculus and mathematics and so I chose to apply to the College of Arts and Sciences at UVa where I planned to major in mathematics. I got to UVa and began my classes. Halfway through my first semester, I realized that I was in the wrong place-that the classes I wanted to take and where my interests lay were in the engineering school. And, I thought since they had an Applied Mathematics department that that major would work for me.
I met with the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and made all of the necessary arrangements to transfer. I minored in electrical engineering. I did not know until after I graduated that the applied math degree was not accredited-it was a huge shock to me and galvanized me to ensure that all young people-particularly women-who had engineering talents and abilities should be encouraged to pursue an engineering career. I got licensed as a professional engineer as soon as I could. With my interest in ensuring that what happened to me didn’t happen to anyone else, SWE was a perfect place for me.
I got an MBA because I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to work for Duke Power, and at the time the University of North Carolina at Charlotte didn’t offer a master’s degree in electrical engineering. The master’s degree that I could obtain was an MBA. It has served me very well and been required for every job I have been hired for after I got it.
2. Why do you like SWE? What motivated you to join in the first place?
I found SWE at a card table at a gymnasium at North Carolina State University when I was doing on-campus recruiting for my employer, Duke Power. I had never heard of SWE before-there wasn’t then a section at UVa. There was no section because I had entered UVa the third year that women were admitted as undergraduate students, and I was among the first ten women to graduate in engineering. SWE was established a few years after I graduated.
I joined because by then I had realized there were few other women in engineering and I wanted to see the number of women increase. In addition, I wanted to be able to affiliate with other women engineers.
Today, SWE is a family unit for me. Some of my very best friends I have met through SWE. I get unconditional acceptance and support from other SWE members.
3. What has made you motivated to stay in SWE?
SWE’s mission is completely congruent with who I am and my personal mission statement. I truly enjoy the activities and the people and believe in what the organization is working to accomplish. Plus, Past National Presidents almost never ‘go away.’ We have SWE blood running in our veins.
4. What other activities are you involved in?
I have served on the boards of many other non-profit organizations, often as chair. I play tennis and do needlework. I have authored six books that have been published to date, and two books that are what are called “in press,” meaning they are at the publishers being readied for publication. I have three volume editors committed to writing volumes in what will be Springer’s Women in Engineering series (for which I wrote the introductory volume) and I will write a chapter/introduction for each of the other volumes. In 2015, I started a new job as CEO of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
5. What was your favorite class in college, or your best training experience?
Being trained as a speaker while I was at Duke Power-so that I could go out and speak on nuclear power -is what I consider my best training experience. I have used and continue to use that training in many ways-including in all of the expert witness work that I have done-and as a nationwide motivational speaker talking about the amazing women through history on whose shoulders we stand. I learned about those women in putting together many of the nominations I have prepared and for my books including my bestselling and award-winning book, “Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.”
National President 1991-1992
Distinguished Service Award, 2002
Life Member and Fellow
Jill was one of the first 10 women to graduate from engineering at the University of Virginia. To learn more about Jill, please head to her LinkedIn profile.