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Scrapbook: Deciphering the Faculty Code

Changing Mindsets

Lois Graham was an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology when she was installed as the Society’s fourth president in 1955, one of very few female engineering faculty members in the country. In the midst of completing her doctorate, and with the pressures of academic life mounting, she resigned her position as SWE’s president halfway through her two-year term. This enabled Dr. Graham to complete her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 1959, believed to be the first woman in the United States to do so. Yet, she didn’t advance to the rank of full professor until 1975, in a career trajectory she found suspiciously longer than those of her male colleagues. 

While there were more women joining engineering faculties by the end of the 1970s, many were concentrated in the lower ranks and had not yet learned how to decipher the code of academic life. At the Society’s 1979 national convention (as they were called at the time), seasoned faculty led an Educators Workshop to help younger female faculty members network and maneuver the unwritten rules of academia, from choosing mentors to navigating departmental politics to determining which committee assignments could propel careers and which assignments could sink them. “The faculty women that I have known match the women engineers that I have known,” noted Irene Peden, Ph.D., professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, “in the quality of sheer dogged persistence.”


Scrapbook: Deciphering The Faculty Code
Following the 1979 workshop, SWE created a women in academia committee to address the needs of the Society’s faculty members. Here, Lois Graham, Ph.D.; Margaret Eller; Amogene DeVaney, Ph.D.; and Betty Lou Bailey, P.E., attend a joint meeting between the WIA committee and members from the American Society for Engineering Education during the 1981 SWE convention.
Scrapbook: Deciphering The Faculty Code
During the 1979 Educators Workshop, Irene Peden, Ph.D., explained that she had removed all “women-related activities,” including her publications on women in engineering and involvement in SWE, from her curriculum vitae on the advice of a male colleague and friend: “Every one of them is a minus. For every paper you have written about women in engineering, this faculty is really, without ever telling you, expecting you to write another technical paper to cancel it out. Then the next one will be a plus.”
Scrapbook: Deciphering The Faculty Code
Convened by Harriett Rigas, Ph.D., who would later receive SWE’s Achievement Award, the 1979 Educators Workshop counted two other Achievement Award recipients among its presenters: Irene Peden, Ph.D., and Thelma Estrin, Ph.D., who shared the lessons they had learned on succeeding in academia.

Author(s) Information

  • Scrapbook: Deciphering the Faculty Code

    Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist

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