Auburn Women

“A Conversation About Auburn’s Women Engineers” (1976)

The following was taken from a 1976 brochure for Auburn's College of Engineering

Photo of original woman engineers

You may be interested in engineering as a career but are still disturbed by the image of a woman trying to break into a “man’s field.” It will probably help you to hear about the experiences of women who are involved in engineering at Auburn.

Woman at the steering wheel of plane

Because each woman in engineering is an individual, her reasons for choosing her career are uniquely her own. Some, having tried the traditionally “feminine” fields, turn to engineering as an opportunity to work with their brains and their hands.

Debby Clark has always wanted to fly. She began her college career in accounting but changed to aviation management in the aerospace engineering department at Auburn, became the first woman pre­sident of the Auburn avia­tion fraternity, got her pilot’s license and won the 1976 99’s Women’s Achieve­ment Award for her achieve­ments in aviation. She’s now in a management posi­tion with an airport in
the Southeast.

Cindy Hess, an electrical engineering student, likes the independence that en­gineering offers her. “Engineering is challeng­ing and wide open. When I get my degree, I know I’ll be able to get a good job and take care of myself,” she said.

“I don’t enjoy being pointed out and stereotyped as ‘The Woman’ in my classes. I prefer not to be considered the representative of ‘womankind’ every time someone in my classes makes a reference to women. For the most part, I’m treated as a student with no special consideration.”

“It took a while to realize it, but now I have confidence in myself that I can do as well as anyone else in engineering,” she said.

Woman operating switch board
woman at machine

Too Demanding?

As for the traditional be­liefs that engineering is too hard a curriculum and leaves no time to enjoy col­lege, and that it’s too de­manding for a woman as a career, well, that seems to depend on the individual and how she handles herself.

Jackie Guthrie, who is the first student at AU to pursue a double major in textile and mechanical en­gineering, said, “Being a woman in engineering doesn’t necessarily give me any special advantage, but it does make me have to do my best.”

Her best includes making the Dean’s List almost every quarter she’s been at Auburn. “Out in the field, as a woman, I might have to make up for the physical strength I lack that males possess,” she said. “Women should seek positions which accom­modate their particular strengths and weaknesses to allow maximum functioning. The only resentment I’ve encountered on the job was from other women and that could have been due to pure jealousy. Once I showed the men that I wasn’t afraid to ‘get my hands dirty’ they seemed to enjoy work­ing with me almost as much as I enjoyed working with them.”

Jackie does work hard in school, working as she is on two degrees. Yet she finds time to contribute to a tutoring service, several student organizations, cooking, embroidery, bike riding, dancing, sports events and church. And she still maintains a high grade point average.

Family Conflicts

woman answering phone

Women in engineering, like women in other fields, are concerned about the possible conflicts between careers and families. Their plans differ, indicating that this area, too, has to be dealt with on an individual basis.

Estelle Davis, who recently graduated with a degree in industrial engineering and was married, plans a career in computers.

“I’ve always been interested in anything futuristic, so I majored in engineering so I could work with computers,” she said. “But a career alone can’t always fulfill me,” she admitted.

“An individual gains fulfillment where he puts his greatest importance, and for me, my family will come first.”

On the other hand, Olivia Owen, a student in civil engineering married to an electrical engineering student, says, “my husband and I want children, but I plan to take leave from work for a year at a time, at the most, because I don’t plan on giving up my career.”

Engineering is a lifelong commitment — you don’t go through school for your degree, work a few years and drop it expecting to get back into the field a few years later. Engineering changes too fast for that.”

Olivia Owen testing for engineering
ENG Brochure Chart

“I thought about quitting engineering at least several times each quarter during my first two years, but the longer I was in it, the more I realized what I’d be giving up if I quit. I’m glad I stayed — it’s worth it.”

Olivia said she is considering returning to school after a few years’ work experience and preparing herself to teach engineering in a university, feeling this would allow her more flexibility in time to be with a growing family.

Jan Dozier, whose husband is also in engineering, finds no conflict between career and family, and plans to pursue her master’s degree in applied mechanical engineering with an emphasis on biomedical engineering after she finishes her mechanical engineering degree at Auburn.

“I think my husband and I can find a job in the same area, so neither of us has the last say in where we work. But I don’t particularly want a job with the same company, because I don’t want my career to compete with my husband’s,” she said.

 

What To Expect?

So what can you expect from engineering? Charlotte Howell feels she has a lot to look forward to.

“I chose civil engineering because it provides me with the practical knowledge of applied mathematics to questions relevant in the everyday world, and the satisfaction of knowing that my knowledge is not useful only to me but that I might be able to solve someone else’s problems.”

“I have been interested in architecture and engineering since seventh grade, and I entered Auburn on an architecture scholarship I won for a design of an A-frame solar energy house.”

“But after my sophomore year I realized that I was more interested in the scientific aspects of design than the design itself. So I entered civil engineering and am concerned primarily with structures. I have never regretted my decision, because I’ve found that engineering provides the exactness and precision of design I can appreciate.”

“Engineering’s not an easy curriculum. Any professional degree than renders service to the welfare of society is achieved only through diligent and persistent work.”

“School work usually involves 23 hours of course per quarter for me, because I consider college a full-time job. In my spare time, I am a piano and guitar teacher, I toy with gourmet and oriental cooking and am a brown belt in karate. I love opera and ballet, make all my own clothes and am in a social sorority.”

“Eventually I plan to establish a consulting firm with my fiancé, an engineering student at West Point, so I can call my own hours and still manage a family.”

 

Something Extra

Jan Dozier being interviewed
Charlotte Howell testing in the lab

Admittedly, everyone isn’t as active academically or socially as Charlotte is. She is definitely a woman with something extra. But many women are finding in themselves that “something extra” that moves them beyond the narrow confines of the humdrum workaday world.

Not everyone’s application to Auburn’s engineering school is accepted, but once you’re in, you are on your way to an exciting, rewarding career, in a profession that eagerly accepts women and allows them to operate peak capacity, one that offers a technical specialist a chance to respond to social and humanistic needs.

As Jan Dozier put it, “I don’t think I would be satisfied with myself if I had majored in something which  I did not find challenging. Engineering offers me the chance to design devices that contribute to saving people’s lives.”

Engineering — a unique career for unique individuals.