Scholarship Grants Opportunities For Women Engineers

John and Polly La Duc enable more women to pursue engineering degrees

“We need more engineers, and not just the ones who go to work in Silicon Valley.”
John La Duc
(BS ENGR SCI ’65)

After receiving his engineering degree from Purdue and his MBA from Stanford University, John La Duc (BS Engr Sci ’65) had little trouble getting started in the business world. He began his career at Conoco, then spent 35 years at Kaiser Aluminum and retired from Foster Wheeler in 2007.

For his wife, Polly — who received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Vassar College and her MBA from Harvard University in the late 1960s — it was a different story entirely.

“When I was interviewing for jobs after graduation, I was told by more than one company, ‘We don’t hire women for that kind of position. How’s your typing?’” she says. “I had an MBA the same as any man, but the opportunities for women were much fewer back then. That attitude toward women in the workplace has continued to rankle me over the years.”

Ensuring Options For Young Women

Polly’s experience — and the couple’s shared belief in the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education — led the couple to establish an endowment that funds the John and Polly La Duc Scholarship for Women in Engineering.

“Polly and I believe that STEM careers in general, and engineering careers in particular, are underappreciated in this country,” John La Duc says. “We need more engineers, and not just the ones who go to work in Silicon Valley. Engineers are problem-solvers, whether they’re practicing or not, and there are plenty of areas — roads, air traffic control, the environment — that could benefit from that type of logical thinking. An engineering mindset can help develop solutions across society.”

“The scholarship allows us to help women who otherwise may not be able to follow their dreams of becoming engineers.”
Beth Holloway
Leah H. Jamieson Director of the Women in Engineering Program

Indeed, one of the College of Engineering’s strategic goals is to meet the national call for graduating more engineers. Scholarships like the La Ducs’ help the College meet that goal.

Since the La Duc Scholarship was first awarded in fall 2014, six students have been selected as recipients. John and Polly continue to give generously every year to the scholarship, which continues to build the endowment and increase the award amounts available each year. The scholarship is available to those in financial need and who are participants in Purdue’s Women in Engineering Program (WIEP). Established in 1969, WIEP was the first program of its kind in the nation and remains dedicated to enriching the profession of engineering through the full participation of women.

“Having diverse perspectives leads to creative new solutions to some of our biggest challenges,” says Beth Holloway, the Leah H. Jamieson Director of the Women in Engineering Program and assistant dean of undergraduate education for the College of Engineering. “Because technology shapes our world in so many ways, ensuring women are a part of the process of creating that technology is incredibly important.”

Unfortunately, too many students with the desire to pursue a career in engineering do not have the financial wherewithal to enter an undergraduate engineering program or to complete their degrees. A scholarship such as the one funded by the La Ducs, Holloway says, creates opportunities for those who need it most.

“The scholarship allows us to help women who otherwise may not be able to follow their dreams of becoming engineers,” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to tell a student, ‘Let us help you so that you don’t have to work two jobs. Let us take away some of that financial burden so that you can focus your efforts in the classroom instead.’”

For the La Ducs, who continue to grow their endowment through annual gifts, the goal is simply to encourage more women to enter the technical fields.

“We know that women are just as competent and offer a different, sometimes broader, perspective than men in the workplace,” Polly La Duc says. “We want them to have access to a quality education and then receive the recognition that education deserves.”

A female engineering student works in a laboratory.

To support the Women in Engineering Program, contact Hilary Butler, director of development, at 765-494-6383 or habutler@prf.org.