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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 – Jane Goodall

Posted May 22, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Jane Goodall is considered to be the world’s most knowledgeable chimpanzee expert, after spending over 50 years studying their social and family interactions. She has worked extensively on animal and general welfare issues.

As a child, she was given a lifelike chimpanzee stuffed animal named Jubilee by her father. Her fondness for the toy started her love of animals. Today, the stuffed animal still sits on her dresser in London. As she writes in her book, Reason for Hope: “My mother’s friends were horrified by this toy, thinking it would frighten me and give me nightmares.” But in fact, the opposite happened.

Her passion and interest in animals brought her to a Kenyan farm in 1957. She took a job as a secretary, and while there, made a phone call to Louis Leakey, the notable Kenyan archaeologist and paleontologist, to see if he’d meet with her simply to discuss animals.

As luck would have it, he was in the market for a chimpanzee researcher. In 1958, he sent her to London to study primate behavior with Osman Hill and primate anatomy with John Napier. Leakey did some fundraising, and then sent Goodall went to Gombe Stream National Park, becoming the first of what would come to be called The Trimates.

Leakey believed that a long-term study of the behavior of higher primates would yield important evolutionary information. He had a particular interest in the chimpanzee, and little information was known about them at the time. Few studies of chimpanzees had been successful; either the size of the safari frightened the chimps, producing unnatural behaviors, or the observers spent too little time in the field to gain comprehensive knowledge. Leakey believed that Goodall had the proper temperament to endure long-term isolation in the wild. At his prompting, she agreed to attempt such a study. Many experts objected to Leakey's selection of Goodall because she had no formal scientific education and lacked even a general college degree.

On July 16, 1960, she returned to Africa and established a camp on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in the Gombe Stream Reserve. Her first attempts to closely observe a group of chimpanzees were not successful; she could get no closer than 500 yards before they fled. She established a nonthreatening pattern of observation with another group, appearing at the same time every morning on the high ground near a feeding area along the Kakaombe Stream valley. The chimpanzees soon tolerated her presence and, within a year, allowed her to move as close as 30 feet to their feeding area. After two years of seeing her every day, they showed no fear and often came to her in search of bananas.

Goodall's research at Gombe Stream is best known to the scientific community for challenging two long-standing beliefs: that only humans could construct and use tools, and that chimpanzees were vegetarians. While observing one chimpanzee feeding at a termite mound, she watched him repeatedly place stalks of grass into termite holes, then remove them from the hole covered with clinging termites, effectively “fishing” for termites. They’d also take twigs from trees and strip off the leaves to make the twig more effective, a form of object modification that resembles basic toolmaking.

Goodall also discovered the aggressive side of chimpanzees. She discovered that chimps will systematically hunt and eat smaller primates such as colobus monkeys. She watched a hunting group isolate a colobus monkey high in a tree, block all possible exits, then one chimpanzee climbed up and captured and killed it. The others then each took parts of the carcass, sharing with other members of the troop.

Additionally, she discovered the violent tendencies the animals had toward one another. Goodall observed dominant females deliberately killing the young of other females in the troop to maintain their dominance, sometimes going as far as cannibalism.

After her research, she spent many years sharing her findings and writing books. Her writings have been met with some controversy, however. Many critics questioned her work as a whole because of her sometimes unconventional practices and lack of education. Some thought her establishment of feeding stations may have triggered the aggression she observed, but she maintained it was necessary for research to be conducted at all.

In March 2013, Goodall attracted a lot of media attention for her book Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the Plants with Gail Hudson. The book had not yet hit store shelves when Goodall was accused of plagiarism after a newspaper reporter reviewing the book called it into question. Media reports say the scientist borrowed sections from Wikipedia and other sources in her new book without giving them proper credit.

The publisher announced the release of the book would be delayed to address the unattributed sections, in an announcement shortly after the accusations. She later apologized for the improper citations. Many have criticized the minimal treatment she received for the incident: critics said something like this would cost other writers their job and reputation.

In 1977, she established the Jane Goodall Institute, which supports continued research and encourages protection of chimpanzees and their habitats. Today, she spends her time on advocacy projects such as this and continuing to spread the word about her discoveries and passion for protecting the environment.

1 comments; last comment on 05/22/2017
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Woman of the Week – Dorothea Dix

Posted May 15, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Dorothea Lynde Dix was an American activist who worked to change the view of people with mental health issues.

She began a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress and created the first generation of American mental asylums. During the Civil War, she served as a Superintendent of Army Nurses.

In 1802, she was born in the town of Hampden, Maine, and grew up first in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was the first child of three born to Joseph Dix and Mary Bigelow, who had deep ancestral roots in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

At 12, she sought refuge with her wealthy grandmother, who lived in Boston, to get away from her alcoholic parents and abusive father. She attended school sporadically while she lived with her parents. She became a schoolteacher after moving to Boston, as there were not many career options for women at the time, and teaching was one of them.

In 1819, she returned to Boston and founded the Dix Mansion, a school for girls, along with a charity school that poor girls could attend for free. She began writing textbooks and published her most famous, Conversations on Common Things, in 1824.

She frequently suffered bouts of illness, like coughs and general fatigue. But with medical technology not where it is today, an illness like this could take away from one’s life significantly. These illnesses caused her to have to relinquish her school, but she began working as a governess for the family of Dr. W. E. Channing. It was while working with this family that Dix traveled to St. Croix, where she witnessed slavery firsthand. Teaching and demanding workload seemed to have taken its toll. She began to dwell on the idea of death, and felt overwhelmed by her physical maladies. Biographer David Gollaher, the first scholar to have access to all of her papers, has suggested that she suffered from depression at several times during her life, and that she experienced a type of mental breakdown during this period. These struggles, though undiagnosed, perhaps gave her certain empathy for others with mental illness.

Colleagues encouraged her to take a trip to Europe, as a way to escape life and see something new. She convalesced in England for more than a year at the home of politician and reformer William Rathbone. During her stay, she met prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, and Samuel Tuke, founder of the York Retreat for the mentally ill. She returned to Boston in 1837, just after her grandmother’s death. The inheritance she received enabled her to support herself fully and devote her time to reform and charitable work.

In 1841, she volunteered to tech religion to female convicts. She saw the conditions that people, specifically inmates with mental illnesses were forced to live in and she was appalled. She became determined to make things better. She began traveling around Massachusetts to research the conditions in prisons and poorhouses, and ultimately crafted a document that was presented to the Massachusetts legislature, which increased the budget to expand the State Mental Hospital. She toured the U.S. documenting the conditions and treatment of patients, campaigning to establish humane asylums for the mentally ill and founding or building additions to hospitals in Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.

During the American Civil War, Dix was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army, beating out Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. Dix set guidelines for nurse candidates. Volunteers were to be middle aged and plain-looking. They were required to wear unhooped black or brown dresses, with no jewelry or cosmetics. Dix wanted to avoid sending vulnerable, attractive young women into the hospitals, where she feared they would be exploited by the men they worked with and served. Dix often fired volunteer nurses she hadn't personally trained or hired.

She often feuded with doctors over her ways, and many of the doctors didn’t want women in their hospitals at all. To solve the problem, the War Department introduced Order No. 351 in October 1863. It granted both the Surgeon General (Joseph K. Barnes) and the Superintendent of Army Nurses (Dix) the power to appoint female nurses. It also gave doctors the power of assigning employees and volunteers to hospitals – something Dix had done. She eventually resigned in 1865, and considered this a failure in her career.

Despite her stern ways as a supervisor, she was kind and caring in treating patients, and instructed her nurses to do the same. She cared for both Union and Confederate soldiers alike, and her hospital was usually the only place a Confederate soldier could be treated. When Confederate forces retreated from Gettysburg, they left behind 5,000 wounded soldiers. These were treated by many of Dix's nurses.

After the war, she resumed her work fighting for mental health rights. In 1881, Dix moved into the New Jersey State Hospital, Morris Plains. The state legislature had designated a suite for her private use as long as she lived. Although she was sick, she carried on correspondence with people from England, Japan and elsewhere. Dix died on July 17, 1887. Many memorials have since been constructed in her honor, and she was elected “President For Life” of the Army Nurses Association.


4 comments; last comment on 05/17/2017
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Woman of the Week – Lisa Drake

Posted May 08, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Lisa Drake is an executive in the automotive industry with a number of achievements already accomplished. She’s one of the youngest chief engineers at Ford Motor Company, and a recipient of the prestigious Automotive Hall of Fame’s Young Leader and Excellence Award, which recognizes the achievements of today’s automotive innovators who have demonstrated significant potential as future industry leaders.


She’s currently the Global Purchasing Director at Ford Motor Company, but she’s worn several hats over the years from Chief Engineer to Super Duty Assistant Chief Engineer.

She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and her MBA from the University of Michigan.

She was hired at Ford right after graduation, as a part of the Ford College Graduate (FCG) Program. The three year program allows new hires to test the waters in many departments within the company and get a feel for the overall product development process, Drake said in an interview with

“I flew to Dearborn to interview and knew that I wanted to work for the Ford Motor Company the minute I landed and saw all of the buildings with Ford logos. I soon realized this is a community — not just a company,” she said.

Following her official hire after completing the post-college program, she’s successfully climbed the ladder at Ford and been there through some big changes and launches. While she was Chief Engineer, she played a large role in the launch of electric vehicles.

During that time, she noted that she was energized by Ford’s recent decision to invest an additional $450 million in its electric vehicle plan, which includes not only electrified vehicles, but also battery system design and development.

“We have such a great depth of talent and experience in hybrid and electric vehicles at Ford, and this gives us confidence going forward,” Drake said. “Twenty-five years from now I can imagine being able to tell stories about how I was on the team that delivered some of the first electric vehicles for Ford in the 21st century.”

Credit: Jim Farley Photos

In addition to her role with purchasing, she also has a hand in the program where she got her start – recruiting college students. She helps find people who will help make the company improve, as well as working hard herself.

“I look for someone with a quiet confidence about him or her. Someone who is willing to put in the hard work to do the right thing for the customer, someone who is more concerned about that than what their next promotion or corporate move would be, and someone who is honest and willing to tell the tough story in an unemotional way,” she said in a 2011 interview.


1 comments; last comment on 05/12/2017
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Woman of the Week – Rita Levi-Montalcini

Posted May 01, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24
Pathfinder Tags: science Woman of the week women wow

Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini was a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist who discovered critical chemical tools that the body uses to direct cell growth and build nerve networks. Her work paved the way for the study of how those processes can go wrong in diseases like dementia and cancer.

She was born in Italy and lived her life there. She and her twin sister Paola were the youngest of four children. Her parents were Adele Montalcini, a painter, and Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician.

As a teenager, she considered becoming a writer, but after seeing a close family friend die of stomach cancer she decided to attend the University of Turin Medical School. Her father discouraged his daughters from attending college, as he feared it would disrupt their potential lives as wives and mothers. Eventually he supported Levi-Montalcini's aspirations to become a doctor.

While in college, neurophysiologist Giuseppe Levi sparked her interest in the developing nervous system. After graduating with a summa cum laude M.D. in 1936, she remained at the university as Levi's assistant.

However, her plan to further her academic career was cut short by Benito Mussolini's 1938 Manifesto of Race and the subsequent introduction of laws barring Jewish people from academic and professional careers.[MM1] During World War II she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos. This laid the groundwork for much of her later research.

When the Germans invaded Italy in 1943, her family fled south to Florence, where she set up a second laboratory in a corner of their shared living space. During this time, she also volunteered her medical expertise for the Allied Health Service. Her family returned to Turin in 1945.

In September 1946, Levi-Montalcini was granted a one-semester research fellowship in the laboratory of Professor Viktor Hamburger at Washington University in St. Louis. She duplicated the lab experiments she did at home, which lead to her being offered a research associate position, which she stayed in for 30 years.

She did her most important work at Washington University: isolating nerve growth factor (NGF) from observations of certain cancerous tissues that cause extremely rapid growth of nerve cells.

By transferring pieces of tumors to chick embryos, Montalcini established a mass of cells that was full of nerve fibers. The discovery of nerves that grew everywhere, like a halo around the tumor cells, was shocking and revolutionary.

The nerve growth produced by the tumor was unlike anything she had seen before–the nerves took over areas that would become other tissues and even entered veins in the embryo. But nerves did not grow into the arteries, which would flow from the embryo back to the tumor. This suggested to Montalcini that the tumor itself was releasing a substance that was stimulating the growth of nerves.

She was made a full professor in 1958. By 1962, she established a second laboratory in Rome and divided her time between there and St. Louis.

After she retired from research and full-time teaching in 1977, she was appointed as director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Council of Research in Rome. She later retired from that position in 1979, however continued to be involved as a guest professor.

Though the scientific community did not appreciate the importance of nerve growth factor at first, they came to realize that it offered possible treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, infertility, and cancer. For their discovery of nerve growth factor, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

Later in life, she went on to create an educational foundation in 1992 and set up the European Brain Research Institute in 2002. Italy honored her by making her a senator for life in 2001.

Even toward the end of her life, Levi-Montalcini continued conducting research every day. She remained mentally sharp and witty until very close to her death. She died in Rome, Italy, on December 30, 2012, at the age of 103.

“It is imperfection—not perfection—that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain,” Dr. Levi-Montalcini wrote in her autobiography, “and of the influences exerted upon us by the environment and whoever takes care of us during the long years of our physical, psychological and intellectual development.”

1 comments; last comment on 05/03/2017
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Woman of the Week – Jane Cooke Wright

Posted April 24, 2017 4:40 PM by lmno24

Jane Cooke Wright (also known as "Jane Jones”) was a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon. She is most known for her contributions to chemotherapy, specifically with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. She also pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast and skin cancers.

She was born in New York City. Her mother was a public school teacher while her father, Louis T. Wright, was a graduate of Meharry Medical College and one of the first African American graduates from Harvard Medical School. Her extended family also had many members in the medical field . Wright's uncle, Harold Dadford West, was a physician, ultimately president of Meharry Medical College. In becoming physicians, Jane and her sister Barbara Wright Pierce both followed in their father's and grandfathers' footsteps, overcoming gender and racial bias succeeded in a largely white male profession.

Credit: Smith College

As a child, Wright attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx. She graduated with an art degree from Smith College in 1942 and then earned a medical degree, graduating with honors in 1945 from the New York Medical College.

After medical school, she completed residencies at Bellevue Hospital (1945–46) and Harlem Hospital (1947–48). She completed her tenure at Harlem Hospital as chief resident, a high ranking position.

Then, in 1949, she joined her father in research at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center. Her father was the founder and director of the center ; when he died in 1952, she took over as leader.

In 1955, Wright began her work at the New York University Medical Center as the director of cancer chemotherapy research. She was also an instructor of research surgery in the Medical Center's Department of Surgery. In July 1967, Dr. Wright became a professor of surgery at New York Medical College, where at the time she was the highest ranking African American woman in an American medical institution.

Outside of her many roles, she conducted significant research. Wright's research work involved studying the effects of various drugs on tumors ; she was the first to identify methotrexate, one of the foundational chemotherapy drugs, as an effective tool against cancerous tumors.

Her early work took chemotherapy from an untested and experimental procedure and turned it into a reputable and proven-to-be-effective cancer treatment.

Wright later pioneered combinatorial work in chemotherapeutics, focusing not simply on administering multiple drugs, but sequential and dosage variations to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and minimize side effects. She was successful in identifying treatments for both breast and skin cancer, developing chemotherapy protocol that increased skin cancer patient lifespans up to ten years.


By little surprise, she has received numerous citations and awards. Honors include the Merit Award from Mademoiselle Magazine in 1952, the Spirit of Achievement Award of the Women’s Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1961, and the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award in 1967. The following year her alma mater, Smith College, presented her with the Smith Medal, its most notable award. In 1971, Dr. Wright became the first woman to serve as president of the New York Cancer Society.

In addition to her research and practice, she also served on numerous boards and frequently volunteered in the community Dr. Wright worked in Ghana in 1957 and in Kenya in 1961, helping to treat cancer patients.

In 1987, after a forty-four year career, Dr. Jane Cooke Wright retired as an emerita professor at New York Medical College. Her work has helped change the lives of millions and has left a significant impact on the medical field.


2 comments; last comment on 04/25/2017
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