Women in Engineering Program: 50 years of encouraging, supporting, connecting, enriching

The 50th anniversary of the Women in Engineering Program, held March 22-24, was rich with content, from interactive workshops to dynamic speakers to a historical video depicting the program’s half a century of progress. During the weekend celebration, one common theme repeatedly emerged: connections.

Women of all ages and of all stages of their engineering educations and careers capitalized on the opportunity to connect with each other personally and professionally.

Leah Jamieson, the Ransburg Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and John A. Edwardson Dean Emerita of Engineering, delivers the keynote address during the Women in Engineering Program’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner in the PMU North Ballroom on March 23. The program’s directorship is named after Jamieson.
Women in Engineering Program directors throughout the years gather for a group photo on March 23 after unveiling the photography specially created to honor Amelia Earhart and Lillian Gilbreth, important women in Purdue's history. They are: (L-R) Donna McKenzie (director from 1968-74); Beth Holloway (director from 2001 - present); keynote speaker and namesake of the program’s directorship, Leah Jamieson; Jane Daniels (director from 1980 - 2001); and Marie McKee (director from 1978-79).

Plans for the golden anniversary were in the works for two years, said Beth Holloway, the Leah H. Jamieson Director of Women in Engineering and assistant dean for Diversity and Engagement. More than 200 women, including students, alumnae, faculty, and staff, enjoyed the weekend’s offerings.

When it started in 1969, Purdue’s Women in Engineering Program was the first in the nation.

Jennifer DeCamp (L) shares a laugh with Kim Underhill, Women in Engineering Program Director Beth Holloway, Claire Chandler, Erin Murphy, and Chris Barman during the Women in Engineering Program 50th Anniversary opening reception March 22.

“It was something that not a lot of other colleges or universities were thinking of,” Holloway said. “You can see the extent of that groundbreaking thinking because, to this day, not every university has such a program, and of those that do, many were not started until the ‘90s.”

Purdue’s engineering college had 47 undergraduate women enrolled in engineering when the program started. Today, there are 2,442.

Students and alumnae enjoy coffee and pastries before the Saturday afternoon workshops get under way on March 23.
Women in Engineering Program’s student mentoring leadership team members attending the March 23 dinner are (L-R) Kailu Zhuang, Allison Strong, Lexi Zovko, Emmy Chojecki, and Klaire Fosnaugh.
Sisters and CoE students Ann Roach (L) and Laura Roach interact with Kim Underhill, group president, North America, for Kimberly-Clark. Underhill gave the Saturday morning keynote address. Kimberly-Clark sponsored the weekend’s events.

The Women in Engineering Program also has evolved in ways beyond its participation level.

“We have so many more resources at our disposal because of the support of alums, corporations, foundations, and friends. The program was started with just one person; now we have a staff of six plus graduate assistants. When the program started, there was really just a focus on the current undergraduates. Now we do programming and activities for students in kindergarten through graduate school. The expanse of who we are trying to impact is so much larger,” Holloway said.

Engineering students and alumnae are treated with a visit from Purdue Pete during the Friday evening opening reception of the Women in Engineering Program's 50th anniversary celebration weekend inside the Armstrong Building Atrium on March 22.
Women in Engineering Program student leadership team members (L-R) Eva Zenk, Sammi Logan, and Grace Kraus participate in the professional development and networking workshops on March 23.

During her address at the dinner, Holloway highlighted the logo created specifically for the 50th celebration - #be_aWE50me.

“We can all ‘be awesome’ because we have a strong foundation from Purdue, and we have each other to continue to build us up. Sister to sister, mother to daughter, alum to student, peer to peer – these are the connections that make us strong, that make us resilient, that enable us to ‘be awesome.’”

A question-and-answer session followed the Saturday morning keynote address on March 23 in the PMU South Ballroom.
The Saturday afternoon workshop sessions on March 23 were interactive and allowed students and alums to discuss professional development topics pertinent to women in the engineering field.

To commemorate the event, each attendee was given a poster to take home. The design highlighted New York-based photographer Paul Lange’s capturing of flowers to represent Amelia Earhart and Lillian Gilbreth, both of whom hold historical importance within Purdue Engineering as women trailblazers in their respective fields. “These flowers are both peonies, the state flower of Indiana, which was a happy coincidence,” Holloway said.

The full-size prints will hang in the Women in Engineering Program front office.

Short History of Women in Engineering at Purdue