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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

Woman of the Week – Joycelyn Elders

Posted July 24, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Dr. Minnie Joycelyn Elders is known for her frankness; progressive views on reproductive health and drug legalization and for having served as the first African American Surgeon General of the United States.

Born in Arkansas to a sharecropping family, Elders graduated valedictorian of her class. She went on to Philander Smith College in Arkansas and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in biology. After a short time working as a nurse’s aide at a Veteran’s Administration hospital, she enlisted in the Army. She trained to be a physical therapist during her three years in the Army. Shortly after, she completed medical school and completed an internship and her residency. She then earned a Master’s Degree in biochemistry.

Over the next twenty years, Elders combined her clinical practice with research in pediatric endocrinology. She worked to publish dozens of papers, most about with problems of growth and juvenile diabetes. This work led her to the study of sexual behavior and her advocacy on behalf of adolescents. She observed many health problems, including the problems a young woman with diabetes getting pregnant too young may face like include spontaneous abortion and possible congenital abnormalities in the infant . She helped her patients to control their fertility and advised them on the safest time to start a family.

In 1987, then-governor Bill Clinton appointed Elders as Director of the Arkansas Department of Health, making her the first African American woman in the state to hold this position. While in office, she reduced the teen pregnancy rate by encouraging use and availability of birth control, counseling, and sex education in schools. She also increased childhood health screenings and immunizations and expanded care for those with HIV, while upping prevention methods and education.

She also worked hard to promote the importance of sex education, proper hygiene, and prevention of substance abuse in public schools as well. In 1992, she was elected President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers.

In January 1993—when Bill Clinton was President—he appointed her as the United States Surgeon General, making her the first African American and the second woman (following Antonia Novello) to hold the position.

Her appointment was controversial due to her views and outspoken attitude. She argued for an exploration of the possibility of drug legalization, and backed the distribution of contraceptives in schools. President Clinton stood by Dr. Elders, saying that she was misunderstood. She also was a strong backer of Clinton’s health care policy.

In 1994, she was forced to resign from the post as her views drew a lot of opposition from conservative leaders, who spearheaded a campaign to remove her from office.

She was invited to speak at a United Nations conference on AIDS. She was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity, and she replied, "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." This remark was the last straw for politicians that disagreed with her, and began the fight to get her out of office.

Elders has since made a number of other statements that put her in the public spotlight, like her January 1994 quote on abortion: "We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children."

After her resignation, Elders has returned to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as professor of pediatrics, and is currently professor emerita at UAMS. She is a regular on the lecture circuit, speaking against teen pregnancy.


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Woman of the Week – Alexa Canady

Posted July 17, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Alexa Canady is the first woman and African American neurosurgeon in the United States. She grew up in Lansing, Michigan and overcame many obstacles over the course of her education and study.

Canady's parents taught her and her brother about the importance of education and hard work as a child. Canady and her younger brother were the only two African-American students in their school. They faced many obstacles throughout their school years. Her upbringing and strong sense of self allowed her to overcome the obstacles of the time and have great academic success.

Before university, Alexa Canady was nominated as a National Achievement Scholar in 1967. She attended the University of Michigan, where she received her B.S. degree in zoology in 1971 and became a member of Delta Sigma Theta. She later received her M.D. with cum laude honors from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1975. She then became a surgical intern at the Yale-New Haven Hospital from 1975-1976, rotating under Dr. William F. Collins.

Although being an exceptional student, she still faced prejudice and discriminative comments as she was both the first black and female intern in the program. She then became the first African American woman neurosurgery resident in the U.S. at the University of Minnesota. Despite what people said about her, Canady viewed her accomplishments as something both women and African Americans could look up to. She often worried her skin color and/or gender would hold her back from certain opportunities.

On her first day of residency at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, she was tending to her patients when one of the hospital's top administrators passed through the ward. As he went by, she heard him say, "Oh, you must be our new equal-opportunity package." Comments like these – which illustrated certain people’s way of thinking – made it hard for her to convince top administrators to allow her to work in neurosurgery, despite her tremendous credentials.

Canady spent most of her working life as the Chief of Neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital of Michigan. She held this role from 1987 until her retirement in 2001. During her time as Chief, she specialized in congenital spinal abnormalities, hydrocephalus, trauma, and brain tumors. In addition to her medical work, she also pushed to change the perspective of how African Americans, both as patients and physicians, are perceived. She claims the major medical problem for Blacks stems from the scarcity of research targeting their specific health concerns and needs. Her work and accomplishments have opened the door for surgeons of all races and genders.

She also earned many awards and distinctions. Canady was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1989. Canady received the American Medical Women’s Association President’s Award in 1993 and in 1994 was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from Wayne State University Medical School. In 1984 she was named Teacher of the Year by Children's Hospital of Michigan. She received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1986. She is a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Society of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and the American college of Neurosurgery.

Canady has also been awarded three honorary degrees – doctor of humane letters honorary degrees from the University of Detroit-Mercy in 1997 and Roosevelt University in 2014, and a doctor of science from the University of Southern Connecticut in 1999.

Though she is retired from practicing, she still works to change the landscape for African Americans in the medical field.


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Woman of the Week – Stephanie Kwolek

Posted July 10, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Stephanie Louise Kwolek was an American chemist, whose career at the DuPont Company spanned over forty years. She is most well known for her invention of a family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide — better known as Kevlar.

Kwolek was born to Polish immigrant parents in the Pittsburgh suburb of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, in 1923. Her father died when she was 10 years old, but spent her childhood with her exploring nature. She says that he sparked her interest in science.

In 1946, Kwolek earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in chemistry from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College of Carnegie Mellon University. She had planned to become a doctor and hoped she could earn enough money from a temporary job in a chemistry-related field to attend medical school.

Instead, she was quickly recruited to work at DuPoint’s Buffalo facility. She was mentored by Hale Charch. She actually told him she had another offer and needed a definite reply from DuPont, and he immediately offered her the job then.

She reportedly got her job because of the amount of men that were overseas at the time for World War II. She completed extensive research on polymers during her formative years there, so they let her stay. While Kwolek initially only intended to work for DuPont temporarily, she found the work interesting and decided to stay rather than pursuing a medical career, moving to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1950 to continue to work for the company.

In 1964, in anticipation of a gasoline shortage, her group began searching for a lightweight yet strong fiber. The research results were intended for use in tires. The polymers she had been working with at the time, poly-p-phenylene terephthalate and polybenzamide, formed liquid crystal while in solution that at the time had to be melt-spun at over 200 °C (392 °F), which produced weaker and less-stiff fibers. A unique technique in her new projects and the melt-condensation polymerization process was to reduce those temperatures to between 0–40 °C (32–104 °F).

This sort of cloudy solution usually was thrown away. However, she persuaded technician Charles Smullen, who ran the spinneret, to test her solution. To her surprise, this fiber did not break like nylon typically did.

Both her supervisor and the laboratory director understood the significance of her discovery, and a new field of polymer chemistry quickly arose. By 1971, modern Kevlar was introduced. Kwolek learned that the fibers could be made even stronger by heat-treating them. The polymer molecules, shaped like rods or matchsticks, are highly oriented, which gives Kevlar its extraordinary strength. It’s said to be stronger than steel.

Today, Kevlar is used in a great number of different ways, including armor, gloves, tires, yacht sails, shoes, ropes, and tennis racquet strings.

Kwolek was awarded the DuPont company's Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement. As of February 2015, she was the only female employee to have received that honor. In 1995, she became the fourth woman to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Kwolek won numerous awards for her work in polymer chemistry, including the National Medal of Technology, the IRI Achievement Award and the Perkin Medal.

After retirement, she spent many years tutoring young girls in science. She died in 2014.


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Woman of the Week – Annie Easley

Posted June 26, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

It takes a brilliant mind to be a computer programmer, mathematician, or rocket scientist. Annie Easley was all three. Brilliant, indeed.

During her 34-year career at NASA, she worked not only on technologies that led to hybrid vehicles, but also on software that enabled great strides in spaceflight and exploration. She also did all of this as one of the first few African-Americans in her field.

Easley was born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised by her mother, who encouraged her to follow any dream she had. Her mother encouraged her to get a good education and Easley was valedictorian of her graduating class.

After high school she went to Xavier University, then an African-American Roman Catholic university, where she majored in pharmacy for about two years.

In 1954, she returned to Birmingham briefly. As part of the Jim Crow laws, African Americans were required to pass an onerous literacy test and pay a poll tax in order to vote. She remembers the test giver looking at her application and saying only, "You went to Xavier University. Two dollars." Regardless, she went and she helped other African Americans prepare for the test.

In 1955, she read a local newspaper article about twin sisters who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as "computers" and the next day she applied. Within two weeks she was hired, one of four African Americans of about 2,500 employees. She began her career as a mathematician and computer engineer at the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (which became NASA Lewis Research Center, 1958–1999, and subsequently the John H. Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio. She continued her education while working for the agency and in 1977, she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Cleveland State University. As part of a continuing education, Easley worked through specialization courses offered by NASA. She originally had planned to finish her degree before this, but pharmacy wasn’t offered at her intended school, and instead she took this path.

While other male colleagues had their undergraduate tuition paid for, she had to pay for her courses with her own money. After she earned her degree NASA began to sponsor additional specialized courses.

Easley encountered other forms of discrimination as well. During a laboratory open house, a photo of her and the rest of her co-workers was blown up and displayed -- except her face was deliberately cut out of the picture. She did not let the act get to her, however. In an interview, she responded to the situation as saying:

"When people have their biases and prejudices, yes, I am aware. My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can't work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be discouraged that I'd walk away. That may be a solution for some people, but it's not mine."

Her 34-year career was remarkable. She learned computer programming and how to write code. Some of her assignments included studies in alternative energy, where she analyzed solar and wind technologies, identified energy-conversion systems and determined the life use of storage batteries. Her work especially informed the development of batteries that are used today in hybrid vehicles.

Her skills were also put to use when NASA was developing software for the Centaur, a high-energy booster rocket, known as "America's Workhorse in Space." Utilizing a mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the Centaur proved to be the most powerful upper stage in the US space program. It would eventually be used to launch numerous communication and weather satellites as well as exploratory spacecraft like the Surveyor, Pioneer, Viking and Voyager. It was also a key factor in the launch of the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn in 1997.

Without Easley’s work, spaceflight would not likely be where it is today.


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Woman of the Week – Rija Javed

Posted June 20, 2017 8:37 AM by lmno24

Rija Javed is currently a senior engineer at Wealthfront, and investment services platform. She leads banking and brokerage platforms and many of the company’s major initiatives. She supervises many projects at once, as well as coming up with creative ideas and solutions.

Credit: Linkedin

She didn’t always want to be an engineer though. In an interview with Refinery29, she noted that she came from a family of engineers and she made a point to not study it in college, which she calls her version of rebellion. She began at the University of Toronto studying commerce and accounting, but soon realized that subject area was not for her. She consulted her dad, who suggested she study electrical engineering. She reluctantly took his advice, but it turned out to be the right choice, she says.

After college, she began work at Zynga as a software engineer. She said in the interview that the company gave her the perfect experience before jumping into[BA1] Silicon Valley, as well as her first job in the U.S., as her studies were all completed in Canada. She worked at Zynga for just over a year, spending time on the infrastructure team as well as the gaming side. However, she reached a point where she wanted to work somewhere more close-knit and less established, so she could have a hand in how it grew. She’s found a good fit at Wealthfront. The company is an automated investment service.

"Initially, I was really impressed with the engineering blog; from there, the mission and company culture drew me in. There are peers I can learn from, but it's small enough that I feel like an integral part of the company,” she told Refinery 29. “Since joining, I've taken the lead on a massive infrastructure project that will impact much of the company's future. As for the mission, Wealthfront is going after a huge undertaking that I find personally rewarding and exciting — to change the way financial services are delivered, and create access to good financial management for more people."

Though she has found career success relatively early in life, she has spoken on the struggles of being a woman in the industry. She noted that there are many misconceptions about what it means to be an engineer, especially among women. She first thought it would be purely technical, but most of her job involves pure logic, rather than manual, technical work.

"Most of my work involves intense critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving. At Wealthfront, we are trying to change the way people in my generation understand and interact with financial planning. That means we often have a blank canvas to build something that hasn’t been built before, which requires a lot of collaboration and relationship management across teams inside and outside of the company. These are all things I find women inherently excel at. Unfortunately, misconceptions about engineering persist among women because there are few good resources that educate people about what being an engineer actually means. It’s one of the reasons I believe mentorship for young women interested in math and science is so important,” she told Refinery29.

She also spends time volunteering with young girls to foster their interest in engineering and STEM. She works with a nonprofit called the We Teach Science Foundation and tutors and mentors young women.

"I want to get rid of the idea that being an engineer means you sit alone at a computer. The more women there are, the more we can dispose of stereotypes about women in the workplace and [ideas about] how they should behave," she told Refinery29.

Javed also blogs on the company site, check her work out here.


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