Auburn Women

Deborah Fraley ’78

125 Years of Auburn Women 1892-2017

I am an Aerospace Engineer from Auburn University.  I’m proud to be able to say that.  A degree in Engineering from Auburn commands respect in the defense industry and has served me well for almost 40 years, allowing me to have an interesting and challenging career and make a good living.

When I was a student at Auburn in the mid-1970’s there were only 55 students total in the Aerospace Department and only two of us were female.  I had started out as a math major and did well my freshman year, but couldn’t figure out what kind of job I could get with a math degree, so I wandered over to the College of Engineering and started asking questions.

The faculty there was excited to see any woman thinking about becoming an engineer, so it was easy to get answers to my questions, examine each curriculum to see which one I was most interested in and get enrolled.  There were several women in the other Engineering curriculums, like Mechanical, Electrical, or Chemical, so I was happy to see other women in the basic Engineering classes that all students have until you get past those and into your specific discipline.

Once I was totally engaged in the Aerospace Department, it was only myself and one more female student.  We became best friends, living and studying together, and helped each other as much as we could.  We were somewhat of a novelty in the department and were treated as such, but always in a very nice and respectful manner.  All the male students were protective of us like we were their little sisters and the professors were always available to us if we needed additional support outside the normal classroom time.  But that was no different than what they did for all the students.

The professors in the Aerospace Department at that time in our history were outstanding educators and took a real interest in every student.  I am still in touch with Dr. John Burkhalter and Dr. John Cochran and always have been over the years.  They were a major influence in my life and career.  Being a gender minority in Engineering at Auburn prepared me in some ways to face the same thing when I got out into the working world, as I have faced the same scenario in every company I’ve ever worked for.  Not all were as pleasant as what I experienced at Auburn, but I was ready for the challenge.  I’m happy to see more and more women decide to go into technical fields for their careers.  I’ve tried to contribute my experience in Engineering as a mentor of young women who are pursuing technical degrees and am actively engaged in the STEM outreach effort of our local chapter of Women in Defense.

I can say with confidence that my part of the story of Women at Auburn is a positive one that helped to put me on the path I’ve successfully followed ever since.  WAR EAGLE!