Feb. 22-28, 2002
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To the point -- with William Morrish

Women engineers building school’s excellence
Sullivan Award nominations sought
Hot Links -- Undergraduate Research Network
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor to read Feb. 28
Students have their day in the sun in solar home contest

Women engineers building school’s excellence

By Josephine P. Pipkin

Susan Burns
Photo by Ian Bradshaw
Susan E. Burns

Some came from families of engineers and some didn’t even know what an engineer was. Some met resistance along the way and some received a helping
hand. Women in the School of Engineering and Applied Science are a varied group. But the 21 women faculty and 635 female undergraduate and graduate students all agree that the Engineering School is a great place to develop your career.

Susan Burns, assistant professor of civil engineering, came from a family full of engineers and scientists.

“As a child I was strongly encouraged by my parents to study engineering. My dad is an engineer and has worked for NASA all his life. My mother was a chemist who researched rocket fuels in the early days of the space program,” she said. Becoming a civil engineer was a natural fit for her, a woman who from her early years was attracted to the field because of its people-serving, earth-saving nature.

“I found the idea of working as an engineer to provide for the basic needs of society to be very appealing,” Burns said.

Maite Brandt-Pearce
Photo by Ian Bradshaw
Maite Brandt-Pearce

Maite Brandt-Pearce, associate professor of electrical engineering, is also the daughter of an engineer.

“I always leaned toward the mathematical/theoretical and I was encouraged to excel in whatever I chose,” said Brandt-Pearce. “I came to this country from South America when I was 11 years old. I knew my field of interest was never going to be English, but the language of science and math was universal and in that I knew I could do well.”

Ginger Moored and Erika Andrews, both fourth-year aerospace engineering students, also have engineers and scientists in their families. Both young women are part of the new wave of female engineering students for whom gender is not an issue.

“I was always interested in space and rockets,” Andrews said. “I watched movies about space but it never occurred to me that I was only seeing men. I had no problem seeing myself as a future engineer.”

Moored describes a welcoming environment at U.Va.

“I liked the idea of engineering from the first because it teaches you how to think and how to solve problems. I’ve never experienced any discomfort because I was a woman either here in my classes or in the internship I did this summer at NASA,” she said.

Some women faculty, on the other hand, report little exposure to engineers in their formative years.

Photo by Rebecca Arrington
Christina M. Mastrangelo

“I was good in math and science in high school, and a counselor said I should consider becoming an engineer,” recalled Christina Mastrangelo, associate professor of systems and information engineering.

“At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant. Once I discovered what an engineer was and did, I was attracted to the field — in part because it was challenging and non-traditional.”

Joanne Bechta Dugan, professor of electrical and computer engineering, had little early support from her parents for going to college. Her mother feared a professional career would hinder her chance to marry and have a family, she said.

“I am personally very motivated by people telling me what I can’t do,” said Dugan. “I chose to major in math because it was something girls didn’t do.” She was only the second woman to receive a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Duke University. She eventually married and became the mother of two.

Joanne Bechta Dugan
Photo by Jim Carpenter
Joanne Bechta Dugan

Historically, women have been slow to take their places in the field of engineering.

“It’s really an issue of image and knowledge that keeps women out of the field,” said Jill Tietjen, a 1976 alumna who is an author and promotional speaker on women and engineering. “Our job now is to raise awareness and provide more role models and encouragement.”

“It’s that tinkering-in-the-basement mode of discovery that attracts people to pursue engineering,” said Deborah G. Johnson, the newly appointed Olsson Chair of Applied Ethics in the Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication. “Not too many women spent their time down in the basements in those early days and even now the change is slow.”

But Johnson believes change will come.

“Our ability to invent and create keeps growing, and so does the importance of exploring questions related to technology and societal issues. This exploration can only be helped by having more women join the field,” she said. (For more on Johnson, see related story, p.1.)

Stephanie Guerlain
Photo by Ian Bradshaw
Stephanie Guerlain

Stephanie Guerlain, assistant professor of systems and information engineering, adds that the Internet may be helping these days in making it easier to expose young women to the field, as well as get information about it. “And the more female faculty we have, the more female students and faculty we will get,” she said.

The number of female faculty in the Engineering School has reached 21, or 13 percent, of the total 159. There is higher growth in the student population — especially at the graduate level, which promises more women engineers. Out of 603 graduate students, 138, or 23 percent, are female. Among the 1,987 undergraduates, 497, or 25 percent, are female.

While women in academia nationwide continue to report significant barriers to success in the field, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

“I’ve never felt my gender kept me back and certainly not here at U.Va. I’ve never felt that I was treated differently than any other colleague,” Mastrangelo said.
Dugan agrees.

“It is a supportive atmosphere here,” she said. “It is more cooperative than competitive.”

Dean Richard Miksad sees the issue in terms of building a school of excellence for all faculty and students.

“The question isn’t about how to attract women,” Miksad said. “It’s about how to attract people who would be a success anywhere. How do you create a situation that allows them to blossom as a person and as a professional? This is important to our faculty regardless of age or gender. We try to make sure we create a situation where people feel equal.”

Maite Brandt-Pearce • associate professor of electrical engineering; B.S., electrical engineering and B.A., applied mathematics, M.E.E. and Ph.D., Rice University

Brandt-Pearce’s goal in designing communication systems is to get more with less. She works on developing wireless systems that can use smaller phones and less bandwidth to get more capacity, more calls, higher data rates and better quality. She designs systems to get more data through existing fibers, smaller-diameter fibers and longer fibers.

She came to U.Va. in 1993 after working for four years at Lockheed ECS in support of the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Susan E. Burns • assistant professor of civil engineering; B.S., M.S., and Ph.D., Georgia Tech

Burns researches more efficient and innovative ways to clean up contamination in the environment, using techniques to absorb contaminants from groundwater or substances that react with and alter contaminants to render them less harmful.
In the four years she has been with the Engineering School, she and her students have worked on projects involving the clean up of TNT from contaminated soil and groundwater at military bases throughout the country. The work focuses on breaking the contaminants down in situ, rather than extracting them from the ground for treatment, and has been performed in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Joanne Bechta Dugan • professor of electrical engineering; B.A., mathematics and computer science, La Salle, M.S. and Ph.D., electrical engineering, Duke

Dugan evaluates hardware and software reliability, particularly for critical applications, where failures could prove disastrous. She and Kevin Sullivan, an associate professor in computer science, developed Galileo, a software tool for dynamic fault tree analysis, under contract to NASA Langley Research Center.

Stephanie Guerlain • assistant professor of systems and information engineering, B.S., Tufts, M.S. and Ph.D., Ohio State

Guerlain takes into account the human factors of engineering. She designs computer-based systems that fit human capabilities and limitations and aid in problem-solving. Co-director of the U.Va. Human-Computer Interaction Lab, Guerlain has worked on systems applied to medical, industrial and military operations. Currently she is working on an NSF-funded project to study team communication and coordination in the operating room and to develop a computer-based training system on surgical decision-making skills.

Christina M. Mastrangelo • assistant professor of systems and information engineering; B.S., M.S. and Ph.D., industrial engineering, Arizona State

Mastrangelo, who has been on the faculty since 1993, looks at variables that affect specific technology and applies that information to various applications. She has several years of industrial experience in aerospace manufacturing, and the majority of her industrial and education experience has been related to improving process quality and quality planning.

Engineering Women

Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852) collaborated with Charles Babbage, the Englishman credited with inventing the forerunner of the modern computer. She wrote a paper in 1843 that anticipated the development of computer software (including the term software), artificial intelligence and computer music. The Department of Defense computer language ADA is named for her.

Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992), a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, developed the first computer compiler in 1952 and originated the concept that computer programs could be written in English. She discovered that a moth had jammed the works of an early computer and popularized the term “bug.” In 1991, Hopper became the first woman to receive the National Medal of Technology. One of the Navy’s newest destroyers – the U.S.S. Hopper – is named for her.

Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000) – the 1940s actress known for her line, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” invented a sophisticated and unique anti-jamming device for use against Nazi radar. The U.S. War Department rejected her design, but after her patent expired, Sylvania used the design for a device that now speeds satellite communications around the world.

—“Women Engineers Show Genius Not Gender Matters,” Buffalo’s Business First Famous Women Engineers



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