There are many women engineers whose lives, careers, and achievements might go unnoticed – yet each has a compelling, dynamic, and thought-provoking story. To celebrate their contributions and lives, SWE Magazine reached out on SWE’s social media channels, asking “Who are the women engineers we should know?”
The SWE editorial board and SWE’s social media community have weighed in on the engineers you should know for 2019. We hope you gain insights, inspiration, and encouragement from them.
This is our fifth installment of what has become an annual series. As with the previous installments, determining a final list was quite challenging, given the depth and breadth of the candidates, and our selections are not meant to be definitive.
Aisha Bowe says she has astonished herself with her meteoric rise from a teen struggling with low self-esteem to NASA aerospace engineer and now CEO of a venture encouraging young people to become engineers.
Bowe told WTOP-FM Radio in Washington, D.C., where she lives, that her parents’ divorce when she was a child caused her to struggle in school and with her self-confidence. She said in the radio interview that she couldn’t get into a top university because of her grades, so she attended a community college. Her dad, a former taxi driver in their native Ann Arbor, Michigan, found a math book in the garbage one day and suggested she take math class. She aced the class, and her professor encouraged her to dream bigger.
Bowe went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2008 and a master’s degree in space systems engineering in 2009, both from the University of Michigan.
She met the director of engineering at NASA when he happened to visit her professor and asked her to lead him on a campus tour. He asked Bowe to submit her resume, and she ended up starting at NASA as an intern. She worked there for six years, followed by two years as a contractor. Bowe then co-founded her technology solutions company, STEMBoard, after realizing that her talks to young people — encouraging them to develop both their capabilities and new technologies to benefit the world — inspired her as well.
A first-generation immigrant from El Salvador and the first in her family to graduate from college, Evelyn Cortez-Davis, P.E., is the assistant director of water operations at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the United States’ largest municipal utility. She is a civil engineer with more than 25 years of water industry experience in the areas of water conservation, water quality, pipeline design and construction, environmental compliance, recycled water, water rights, groundwater remediation, and groundwater planning. She currently leads a team to safely treat, store, and convey water to the 4 million residents in the Los Angeles Metro area.
Cortez-Davis wrote December Sky: Beyond My Undocumented Life, a book about her family’s immigration story, her fear of living as an undocumented student, and her journey to U.S. citizenship.
Her activism reflects her STEM education advocacy for nearly three decades, in which she encourages girls and other underrepresented students to pursue careers in science and engineering. She was a founding member of the K-12 outreach program of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers student chapter at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a UCLA alumna, Cortez-Davis received the university’s Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity Advocacy Award in 2006.
She represents Los Angeles on the Colorado River Board of California and served on the board of directors of the National Water Research Institute and the board of trustees of WateReuse California. She is a registered civil engineer in the state of California and a Board Certified Environmental Engineer.
Lizzy Crist, a student seeking her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, is also a stellar athlete, academic star, and team leader.
Crist served as team captain in 2016 for the national champion women’s soccer team at Washington University in St. Louis, where she had played as the starting goalkeeper since her sophomore year.
She also won the 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year Award, given to any woman from any division and from any sport, for accomplishments in academics, athletics, leadership, and volunteerism.
Crist, a native of Wayzata, Minnesota, played on the team with her younger sister, Maggie.
As an undergraduate, Crist volunteered as an experiment leader for Einstein Explorers, a student group that demonstrates science experiments for patients at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biomedical/medical engineering from Washington University in 2017.
Crist credits her success in school and as a soccer goalkeeper to her positive attitude, focus on short-term goals, and being happy with whatever progress she made. Crist is now an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists scholar and won the College of Science and Engineering’s three-year graduate fellowship.
“If I fail, then that means I am learning, and if I am learning, then I am still growing,” she told Washington University’s McKelvey School of Engineering for a profile story.
Crist’s goal is to promote women in STEM education, she said in the interview. She said she eventually hopes to combine her passions for empowering female students and pursuing cancer research, as she develops 3D models to study cancer metastasis.
West Lafayette, Indiana
As assistant dean of engineering for diversity and engagement at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Beth Holloway, Ph.D., aims to establish and maintain a positive and inclusive undergraduate experience for students.
Under her leadership, the Purdue Women in Engineering Program received the 2013 WEPAN (Women in Engineering ProActive Network) Women in Engineering Program Award and the 2014 ABET Claire L. Felbinger Award for Diversity and Inclusion.
Dr. Holloway, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering education and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Purdue, has also been the director of the university’s Women in Engineering Program since 2001. She’s known as a passionate advocate for Phi Sigma Rho, the sorority for women in engineering and engineering technology, and received the sorority’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Among Dr. Holloway’s numerous awards are the 2012 IBM Faculty Advisor Award, the 2012 Society of Women Engineers’ Outstanding Faculty Advisor award, and the 2014 WEPAN Distinguished Service Award.
She was elected fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) in 2017. She had previously chaired ASEE’s Women in Engineering Division and served as president of WEPAN in 2006-2007.
Prior to joining Purdue, Dr. Holloway worked as a research and development engineering group leader at Cummins Inc., where she was a recognized corporate engine lubrication system expert, with specialties in piston cooling nozzle and lubrication pump performance.
Margaret Ingels, who died Dec. 13, 1971, in her native Kentucky, was the first woman to graduate with a degree in engineering from the University of Kentucky, in 1916, and among the first in the United States to earn an engineering degree. Ingels is also regarded as one of the first women in the U.S. to earn a professional degree as a mechanical engineer. She joined the Carrier Engineering Corporation in Pittsburgh in 1917.
She gained acclaim for her work on air conditioning, becoming known as America’s “first woman air-conditioning engineer.” Among her myriad achievements, Ingels developed the “effective temperature” scale to incorporate humidity and air movement into the equation of a person’s comfort level. Ingels had become an expert in air conditioning when she was appointed to the research staff of the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers in New York in 1921.
She also perfected a new portable machine that determined the amount of germ-laden dust in schoolrooms and other public places. In addition, Ingels helped refine the sling psychrometer — a device used to read the relative humidity of the air.
Ingels returned to the Carrier-Lyle Corporation, in Syracuse, New York, in 1929 and stayed there until she retired. From 1932 to 1952, she spoke to more than 12,000 people throughout more than 200 speeches.
The SWE student section at the University of Kentucky established a fellowship fund in Ingels’ memory for students enrolled in a Master of Science or Ph.D. program in engineering.
Elizabeth Muriel “Elsie” MacGill, known as the “Queen of the Hurricanes,” is believed to be the world’s first woman to earn an aeronautical engineering degree and was the first woman in Canada to receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
She died on Nov. 4, 1980.
In 1929, MacGill, whose mother was British Columbia’s first woman judge, became the first woman in North America to be awarded a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.
She’s credited with helping strengthen Canada’s aircraft construction industry as the first woman to work as chief aeronautical engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry (CanCar). At CanCar, she designed and tested a new training aircraft, the Maple Leaf Trainer II, during World War II. When the factory was chosen to build the Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force, MacGill’s role changed. As the factory’s workforce expanded from about 500 to 4,500 by the end of the war, she was tasked with streamlining operations in the production line. MacGill was also responsible for designing solutions to allow the aircraft to operate during the winter, introducing de-icing controls and a system for fitting skis for landing on snow.
She later ran a successful consulting business and served on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.
Among MacGill’s many awards, she received the SWE Achievement Award in 1953, and the Order of Canada in 1971 for “services as an aeronautical engineering consultant and as a member of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.” In 1983, she was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, and in 1992, she was a founding inductee in the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in Ottawa.
As the first woman to graduate with an engineering degree from the University of Hawai‘i, in 1950, Mae Nakatani Nishioka, P.E., paved a path for others to follow, both literally and figuratively.
When she showed up for her first day of class, the professor looked at her — the only woman in his all-male class of engineering majors — and told her she must be in the wrong building; home economics was next door. She persevered, and four years after she earned her degree, Nishioka made history again as Hawaii’s first female licensed professional engineer.
She started her career in the Territory of Hawaii’s Highway Planning Office, where she would later work on the H-1 Freeway, the state’s first major freeway.
Later, while working at the University of Hawai‘i, Nishioka coordinated a construction program to develop the state university system, with campuses at UH-Manoa, Hilo, West Oahu, and certain community colleges.
Nishioka mentored female engineering students and professionals. She joined SWE in 1958 as a member at large, and served as Hawaii’s delegate to the First International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES), held concurrently with the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. She remained an active SWE member for nearly 60 years. In 2011, Nishioka was one of the original signers of the charter that created the SWE Hawaiian Islands Section.
She died just two days before she was to have been conferred the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaii Council of Engineering Societies. Her daughter, Susan, accepted the award on her behalf. The SWE Hawaiian Islands Section is establishing a scholarship to preserve Nishioka’s legacy.
New York City
When asked with whom she’d most like to have drinks, Michele O’Connor, P.E., civil engineering practice leader at New York-based consultancy Langan, would choose an eclectic group of women: Eleanor Roosevelt; Beyoncé; and her own maternal and paternal grandmothers, Margaret Levins and Ellen Cudden, she told the New York Real Estate Journal. She cited Roosevelt’s considerable and remarkable achievements, given the political climate of her tenure as first lady; Beyoncé’s success and powerhouse acumen; and her grandmothers, who between them bore and raised 23 children, ran their households, and managed work on the farm.
“I would be curious to know what career paths they would have pursued if they were entering the workforce today,” O’Connor said of her grandmothers.
O’Connor’s career has resulted in her serving as civil engineering practice leader at Langan Engineering and Environmental Services Inc., where she helped lead the first phase of New York’s Hudson Yards. The $25 billion development is one of the largest real-estate projects since Rockefeller Center was built 80 years ago. O’Connor led the development of a four-acre park called Hudson Park and Boulevard.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Rutgers University and served as president of the New York chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women and as a board member on the Women Builders Council.
O’Connor’s enthusiasm for supporting and empowering women led her to co-found Women@Langan — a forum for women at the firm to build a community and form lasting relationships.
Jan Talbot, Ph.D., has lived a life of firsts: in 1986, as the first woman hired at the University of California, San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, and, in 1975, as the first woman engineer hired in the Chemical Technology Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee. She was the only female of 300 chemical engineers at Oak Ridge.
Dr. Talbot also was one of two women in her chemical engineering class at The Pennsylvania State University, where she graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Two years later, she earned a master’s in chemical engineering. In 1986, Dr. Talbot was one of two women in her class at the University of Minnesota to earn a doctorate in engineering.
A fellow of The Electrochemical Society, Dr. Talbot served as president of the 8,000-member organization from 2001 to 2002, and was editor of its Interface publication.
At UC-San Diego, Dr. Talbot was one of five professors credited with founding the university’s nanoengineering department. Her own research included electrophoretic deposition of phosphors and nanosized materials, chemical mechanical polishing, and thermochemical hydrogen production. Dr. Talbot focused on synthesis and deposition of phosphors for solid-state lighting.
Dr. Talbot retired July 1, 2018, and is a professor emerita at UC-San Diego. The Electrochemical Society is raising funds to make Dr. Talbot’s publications open access to honor her legacy. More information about that effort can be found here.
The spirit of exploration runs deep for Jessica Wood, the leader of a crew building the backbone of new engines that NASA will use for deep-space exploration.
After all, Wood’s grandmother worked as a “computer” — a manual computing role portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures” — for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the 1940s before it became NASA. Her grandmother’s legacy includes working at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for the engineer who became the first flight director for the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Wood was quoted in her NASA profile as saying she is continuing her grandmother’s legacy by playing a part in making history with NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.
She serves as the NASA combustion devices powerhead lead for the RS-25 engine at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Four of the engines, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, California, will power the first flight of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft during what NASA calls the first integrated test of the space agency’s deep-space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, the SLS rocket, and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Wood has earned two bachelor’s degrees: one in industrial and product design from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the second in mechanical engineering from The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
She counts among her other explorations her open-water swimming skills, including swimming the 21.3-mile length of Lake Tahoe and the Bridge to Bridge 10K swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.
A project advisor at the Colorado School of Mines, Lisa Woodward, P.E., has demonstrated her enthusiasm for helping others through philanthropy, student mentoring, social activism, and developing enduring programs.
Woodward helped run the SWE Rocky Mountain Section (RMS) Spring Summit and served as program director for iCon Boulder, the SWE Region i conference. She has also served SWE RMS as vice president and was on the WE Local Denver programming committee.
A few years ago, Woodward began taking a university student with her to the WE annual conference after discovering that many students lacked the confidence to attend the career fair on their own. Before the WE conference, she mentors the student on such details as resume presentation, outward professional appearance, and interview techniques.
Woodward has volunteered as a Girl Scout leader for 12 years and earned the Girl Scout President’s Volunteer Service Award for her hundreds of hours of volunteer work. She started Girls Lead the Way to teach leadership skills alongside hands-on STEM activities.
As president of her local high-school PTA, she brought in speakers to inspire the students. She also volunteered to counsel the high-school students so more would get scholarships and choose to attend college.
Outside of engineering, Woodward has a keen interest in and devotion to horses. She sits on the board of the Jefferson County Horse Council and helped plan horse trails in Bear Creek Lake Park. Woodward boards horses and bred a horse that became top 10 in the U.S.
In addition to holding a B.S. in chemical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, Woodward earned a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado Boulder and is a licensed professional engineer in environmental engineering.