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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 – Beverley Bass

Posted February 19, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Beverley Bass was the first female captain hired by American Airlines and is perhaps best known for her quick decision making on September 11th, 2001, when she quickly responded and diverted her flight after receiving word of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Bass grew up riding horses in Fort Myers, Florida. When she was 9 or 10, she saw a handwritten sign offering plane rides for a penny a pound. She began collecting the three quarters it would take to get on a flight. However, her Aunt Ginger, who was watching her at the time had no intention of sending a young child up on such a cheap flight. Within a few years though, Bass had told her passion to her Aunt Ginger, who would take her to watch planes take off from the airport.

Source: Mark Graham

“The pilots seemed like gods to me,” Bass said in an interview with Texas Christian University. “But for years my father said no to flying lessons because he thought I’d lose interest in the quarter horses we raised, and he was convinced the horses were what would keep me away from boys and drugs.”

When she went off to college, she set out with one goal – to get a degree. She knew she’d need one to be hired by an airline, she took Spanish and interior design. But all the while, flying remained her obsession.

Her parents finally gave in and arranged lessons with the man who had offered those plane rides for a penny a pound.

“I came home after my first flying lesson and told my parents that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” Bass said in an interview with her alma mater.

She arranged her class schedule so she could spend evenings at her flying lessons. After graduation, she spent her days racking up flight hours doing various odd assignments. Until she got the call from American Airlines. At just 24, she was hired as the company’s third female pilot and became the first to make captain.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Bass was flying from Paris to Dallas when she learned that terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. The federal government closed U.S. airspace.

As she cruised along at 39,000 feet with a first-time co-pilot, Bass was told little else beyond where she needed to land.

“It was the hardest PA I ever had to make,” she said of addressing the passengers over the loudspeaker that fateful Tuesday morning. “I didn’t want to lie, but I had to protect the flight attendants because I didn’t want to cause havoc for them.”

Bass told passengers that “there was a crisis in the U.S. and that we would be landing in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, and that I would get back to them with more once we were on the ground.”

Her passengers and crew were stuck in Canada for some time, they had to find local stores and pharmacies to meet their needs because they could not access luggage.

She refused to let the terrorist attack muster up enough fear to stop her from living her dream. She said at the time that she’d always love to fly, despite the changing atmosphere following the attacks.

More recently, Bass has been in the news for being the inspiration for “Come From Away” on Broadway.

6 comments; last comment on 02/23/2018
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Woman of the Week – Samantha Larson

Posted February 12, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Samantha Larson is an American mountain climber from Long Beach, California. In 2007, at only 18, she became the youngest non-Nepalese woman to climb to the top of Mount Everest.


Larson began climbing with her father, David Larson, when she was in sixth grade. They began the Seven Summits by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2001, when she was 12.

During this expedition, she studied her eighth-grade algebra at 16,000 feet during breaks in climbing. She won the science fair for the state’s third-largest district by chronicling the effect of altitude on heart rates, using a medical monitor to test fellow climbers.


She also brought her oboe on the trek and played the instrument in the snowy conditions so as to be ready for a band concert upon her return to Long Beach.

Larson graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in June 2006, deferring her freshman year at Stanford University for a year to train for the Everest climb.

On May 16, 2007, at the age of 18, she temporarily became the youngest non-Nepalese woman to summit Mount Everest. By reaching the top of Everest, she also temporarily became the youngest person to have climbed the Seven Summits (the "Bass list"), the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. She and her father became the first father-daughter team to complete the Seven Summits. In August 2007 they climbed the Carstensz Pyramid, thereby also completing the "Messner list" of the Seven Summits.

For her climbing records, she was featured in the 2009 and 2012 editions of the Guinness Book of World Records. She’s been interviewed many times for her climbs and has even given a TEDx Talk on the subject.

These are just examples of her resilience and strength. Her adventures are best chronicled on her blog. She posted throughout the entire climb, offers how-tos and reflection on her journey.

She’s now 29, living and working in Seattle as a freelance journalist. She focuses on environmental writing and topics in science.

3 comments; last comment on 02/16/2018
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Woman of the Week – Margaret Mead

Posted February 05, 2018 4:45 PM by lmno24

Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who featured frequently as an author and speaker in the mass media during the 1960s and 1970s.

Mead was a respected and often controversial academic who popularized the insights of anthropology in modern American and Western culture. Her reports showing attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures influenced the 1960s sexual revolution. She was a proponent of broadening sexual mores within a context of traditional Western religious life.

Mead, the first of five children grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and her mother, Emily (née Fogg) Mead, was a sociologist who studied Italian immigrants. Her sister Katharine died at only nine months old and her passing was traumatizing for Mead. She had named the child and thoughts of what her sister’s life could have been infiltrated her daydreams for many years. When her other two sisters were born, she was elated. She penned a letter to her sister Elizabeth offering advice on starting a family in such an uncertain world. Her youngest sister was named Priscilla and she also had a brother named Richard.

Mead earned her bachelor's degree at Barnard College in New York City and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University. She was appointed assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in 1926. After expeditions to Samoa and New Guinea, she published Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) — which became a best seller — and Growing Up in New Guinea (1930).

Mead's findings in Coming of Age in Samoa suggested that the community ignores both boys and girls until they are about 15 or 16. Before then, children have no social standing within the community. Mead also found that marriage is regarded as a social and economic arrangement where wealth, rank and job skills of the husband and wife are taken into consideration.

Her later works included Male and Female (1949) and Growth and Culture (1951), in which she argued that personality characteristics, especially as they differ between men and women, were shaped by cultural conditioning rather than heredity. Some critics called her fieldwork impressionistic, but her writings have proved enduring and have made anthropology accessible to a wider group of people.

Over the years, Mead became an in-demand lecturer, often tackling controversial social issues. She also wrote a column for Redbook magazine and was a popular interview subject. She continued to work for the American Museum of Natural History until 1969 and was an adjunct professor at Columbia University for a time. In 1972, Mead published her autobiography, Blackberry Winter.

Another influential book by Mead was Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. This became a major marker of the feminist movement, since it claimed that females are dominant in the Tchambuli (now spelled Chambri) Lake region of the Sepik basin of Papua New Guinea (in the western Pacific) without causing any special problems. The lack of male dominance may have been the result of the Australian administration's outlawing of warfare.

She passed away in November 1978. On January 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced that he was awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Mead.

3 comments; last comment on 02/07/2018
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Woman of the Week – Wangari Maathai

Posted January 29, 2018 4:45 PM by lmno24

Wangari Muta Maathai was a Kenyan environmental political advocate and Nobel laureate. She is best known for founding the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization that focused on tree planting, conservation and women’s rights.

She was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya in 1940. At age eleven, Maathai moved to St. Cecilia's Intermediate Primary School, a boarding school at the Mathari Catholic Mission in Nyeri. During this time, she became fluent in English and converted to Catholicism. When she completed her studies there in 1956, she was rated first in her class, and was granted admission to the only Catholic high school for girls in Kenya, Loreto High School in Limuru.

As the end of East African colonialism approached, Kenyan politicians were proposing ways to make education in Western nations available to promising students. John F. Kennedy, then a United States Senator, agreed to fund such a program through the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, initiating what became known as the Kennedy Airlift or Airlift Africa. Maathai became one of some 300 Kenyans selected to study in the United States in September 1960.

She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas, a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She was the first woman from East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.

Later, she became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977, respectively.

Also in 1977, she started a grass-roots movement aimed at countering the deforestation that was threatening the means of subsistence of the agricultural population. The campaign encouraged women to plant trees in their local environments and to think more about the environment. The so-called Green Belt Movement spread to other African countries, and contributed to the planting of over thirty million trees.

Maathai was honored around the world for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the board of many organizations. She addressed the UN on a number of occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the five-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future, among many other honors.

She died in 2011 after a battle with ovarian cancer. She was 71.

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Woman of the Week – Dian Fossey

Posted January 22, 2018 4:45 PM by lmno24

Dian Fossey is best known for dedicating her life to the study and appreciation of gorillas. She was an American primatologist and conservationist known for undertaking an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups from 1966 until her death in 1985. She was murdered while out studying the animals. It is believed she was killed because of her conservation efforts. She often butted heads with poachers.

She studied gorillas daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda. She wrote about her discoveries in her 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist, which recounts her scientific study of the gorillas at Karisoke Research Center along with her own personal story. It was adapted into a 1988 film of the same name.

Called one of the foremost primatologists in the world, Fossey, along with Jane Goodall and Birutė Galdikas, were the so-called Trimates, a group of three prominent researchers on primates (Fossey on gorillas; Goodall on common chimpanzees; and Galdikas on orangutans). They were all recommended for the research by anthropologist Louis Leakey.

During her time in Rwanda, she actively supported conservation efforts and strongly opposed poaching and tourism in wildlife habitats. Her goal was to educate people and make more people acknowledge sapient gorillas.

Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center, a remote rainforest camp tucked away in the Ruhengeri province in the saddle of two volcanoes in Rwanda. She worked 9,800 feet up Mount Bisoke within a research area of about 10 square miles. She became known by locals as Nyirmachabelli, or Nyiramacibiri, roughly translated as "the woman who lives alone on the mountain."

Before Rwanda, she did research on gorillas in Congo. Those animals were more welcoming to human interaction, so her early time with the gorillas in Rwanda was a shock. Those animals only knew humans as poachers and it took some time for them to become comfortable with humans at a close distance.

In the course of her years of research, Dian established herself as a true friend of the mountain gorilla. However, she formed a particularly close bond with one gorilla named Digit. He had a damaged finger on his right hand (hence, the name) and no playmates his age in his group. Over time, a true friendship would form.

Tragically, on Dec. 31, 1977, Digit was killed by poachers. He died helping to defend his group, allowing them to escape safely. He was stabbed multiple times and his head and hands were severed. Poachers sold his hands as cheap souvenirs. It was then that Dian Fossey declared war on the poachers.

Fossey became more intense in protecting the gorillas and began to employ more direct tactics to combat poaching. She and her staff cut animal traps almost as soon as they were set; frightened, captured and humiliated the poachers; held their cattle for ransom; and burned their hunting camps and even mats from their houses.

She then returned to the U.S. for some time to work on her manuscript for Gorillas in the Mist. After publication she returned back to her camp for more research.

Fossey was brutally murdered in her cabin at a remote camp in Rwanda in December 1985. It has been theorized that her murder was linked to her conservation efforts. Originally, some suspected robbery as her belongings were strewn about, but none of her valuables were taken. The case has never been solved, even to this day.

After Fossey's death, her entire staff, including Emmanuel Rwelekana, a tracker she had fired months before, were arrested. All were later released except Rwelekana, who was later found dead in prison, supposedly by suicide.

Rwandan courts later tried and convicted Wayne McGuire, a research student, in absentia for her murder. McGuire had returned to the United States in July 1987. No extradition treaty exists between the U.S. and Rwanda, so McGuire, whose guilt is still widely questioned, has not served his sentence.

Fossey was buried among her gorilla friends, including Digit. Fossey's Digit Fund in the U.S. was renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. The Karisoke Research Center is operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and continues the daily gorilla monitoring and protection that she started.

1 comments; last comment on 01/23/2018
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