Gathering Stories - Women in Mechanical Engineering: Energy and Environment | Margaret Bailey & Laura Shackelford
The wide-reaching tumult of 2020 and 2021 and painful realities of the Covid-19 pandemic have prompted so many of us to ask ourselves what we, as individuals, communities, scholars, and societies would like to preserve and transform in the months and years to come, knowing that these events will have lasting impacts on so many dimensions of our lives. A unique and timely edited collection — Women in Mechanical Engineering: Energy and Environment — grew out of this moment to gather new visions, transformational work, and address pressing issues in the areas of energy and the environment. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) faculty — Margaret Bailey, Ph.D., P.E., Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Laura Shackelford, Ph.D., Professor of English— bring together contributions from women engineers who are at the forefront of these changes and confront them daily in their research, teaching, and professional practices, while also navigating engineering domains that are historically gendered to the disadvantage of women. Reading about the new directions, emerging research, and breathtaking career trajectories of these trailblazing women, one gets a glimpse into some of the ways in which they are transforming areas of energy and the environment in Mechanical Engineering today.
The volume showcases the important technical scholarship and contributions of women currently working in areas of mechanical engineering. It also contextualizes the present field of women and their technical scholarship in relation to three inspiring and influential predecessors – Kate Gleason, Edith Clark and Maria Telkes—in an introductory historical chapter by the Women in Engineering series editor, Jill Tietjen, P.E. (Society of Women Engineers Fellow and Past-President) and Margaret Bailey, volume co-editor who served as the inaugural Kate Gleason Endowed Chair at RIT from 2003 - 2009.
Exploring scholarly research, professional trajectories, disciplinary shifts, proven methods, personal insights and attitudes, or a combination of these, the book's chapters tell an important
story about areas such as renewable energy, batteries and energy storage, power generation and distribution, sustainability, engineering and public policy, combustion and emissions, and engineering education, as seen from the perspective of remarkable contemporary women engineers from within academe, industry, and government. The book is divided into three sections, to reflect contributors’ primary emphasis on New Perspectives, Research/Technical advances, or Career Journeys, though most chapters artfully combine these threads to some degree as they tell their story.
The chapters are written in a narrative style in order to help readers to reflect on how the author’s work in engineering has impacted her life and, in turn, how being a woman in engineering has impacted her work. Authors adopted a variety of approaches, stylistically, in telling their stories.
The editorial vision and impetus for this collection grew out of just such experiences of seeking out and finding role models and learning from other Mechanical Engineers who had accomplished great things and actively worked to improve women’s opportunities and visibility in these fields. Co-editor, Margaret Bailey, found her inspiration from several women – past and present. As she describes the inspiration journey which led to the creation of this volume:
….I didn’t know any engineers when I entered Penn State to study architectural engineering after high school. On my first day at college I arrived early for my chemistry class – it was a large room with about 200 seats. I sat down and got settled in, pulling out my book and pencil. When I looked up and began to watch students filing in, I realized that there were no women among them. After straining my eyes and neck I finally saw a few women in seats scattered here and there in that large space. In my high school the brightest students were at least half women. That was my paradigm, which quickly shifted. I spent five years studying engineering and never had one women professor teach me a technical course. And yet, most of the best students in my classes were women. I often wondered why that was and thought that one day maybe I would be an engineering professor. Just like when I was a freshmen in chemistry, I’ve needed to deliberately look for women to serve as possible engineering role models in my career. About 20 years ago, I found one in a woman named Kate Gleason….. She serves as an example of an amazing woman whose story was forgotten, only to be rediscovered and accurately told 75 years after her death. I came to know of Kate Gleason when I accepted the Kate Gleason endowed chair position at RIT in 2003 and had the opportunity to learn about her from Jan Gleason who was married to Kate’s great-nephew. ……
Kate Gleason has been nominated for entry into the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls many times and a strong proponent of these nominations is Jill Tietjen….. I met Jill six years ago and our connection was nearly instant…. and she wondered if I might be interested in editing a volume. About that same time, Laura Shackelford an English professor at RIT who I had known and admired for many years was named Director of the new Center for Engaged Storycraft. …. I thought that it would be wonderful to co-edit a volume for Jill’s series with Laura. …..Together we created a plan for this volume and the response to our call for chapters during the Covid-19 summer of 2020 was overwhelming.
Kate Gleason inspired me to work with Jill and Laura to create this volume. Her story was almost lost and that would have been a loss for all of us. It made me wonder how many other women’s stories in the early years of engineering were lost. I find Kate Gleason to be an inspiration and the young people, especially the women, enrolled in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering where I teach are also inspired by her story. I wanted to learn from contemporary women engineers about what their journeys have been like. And I thought that others could learn and become inspired through their words and experiences.
Chapter authors inspire and inform readers with their first-hand accounts of leading research and field-change in mechanical engineering in the dynamic areas of energy and the environment. As engaging narratives, individual chapters provide models for people at all stages of their education, career, and life, helping readers to learn from their critical decisions, their hopes and dreams, and their strategies of resilience in the face of challenges. Potential readers include:
• Students interested in Mechanical Engineering: Energy & Environment
• Women in industry, academia, or other professions interested in the field of Mechanical Engineering
• Engineering leaders/educators/professionals seeking a current snapshot of the field from the perspective of nearly thirty women engineers
• Women interested in reading and reflecting on others’ experiences in these fields and their strategies for advancing in research, professionally, and personally in spite of obstacles
• People engaged in advocacy efforts in support of women in engineering, and other under-represented populations within engineering and other STEM fields
Reading the narratives gathered together in Women in Mechanical Engineering: Energy and Environment will provide a sense of what it is like working in these fields and offer a rare glimpse into these contemporary women engineers’ inspiring accomplishments, as they provide their first-person perspectives and, often, nonlinear and bumpy journeys. Their stories are moving. As a collection that presents contemporary, real-world models and diverse methods of working in Mechanical Engineering in these pivotal areas of energy and environment, this volume aims to be literally moving, as well, by showcasing models or methods that might revitalize other women engineers’ and readers’ approach to their own professional development, resilience, empowerment, self-advocacy, and purpose.
Margaret Bailey, Ph.D., P.E., Professor of Mechanical Engineering within Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology, focuses on Thermodynamics, engineering and public policy, engineering education, and gender in STEM. She serves as the Principal Investigator on several NSF funded efforts, including the large-scale ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant which increases the representation and advancement of women faculty which resulted in impactful programs, practices, policies and a dedicated ADVANCE unit within the Provost Office.
Laura Shackelford is a Professor in the English Department and founding Director of the Center for Engaged Storycraft at the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Liberal Arts. Her research, teaching, and interdisciplinary collaborations all pursue creative knowledge-building through narrative and story practices of all kinds, particularly those that adapt the unique affordances of digital and bioinformatic cultures to crafting more equitable presents and futures.