You Don’t Look Like An Engineer

Submitted By: Jill Tietjen | Age: 56 

I am an electrical engineer today. But, no one encouraged me or ever suggested to me that I consider engineering as a career, not even my PhD engineer father! I was actively discouraged from even applying to the University of Virginia by my guidance counselor. But, I was accepted to the University of Virginia and began my college career as a math major. Then, I found engineering. I met with the Dean and filled out all of the paperwork to transfer to the engineering school. I called home to tell my parents – my mother said “no.” But, I told them that I was calling to inform them – not ask for permission. I was at the University of Virginia the third year that women were admitted as undergraduate students so there weren’t many women engineering students – but I didn’t think that was odd – there weren’t very many women. Little did I know that women were such a small percentage of the engineering field – then and today.

I don’t understand why more women don’t pursue the engineering field. Engineers do such amazing things – I help provide the electricity that powers our homes and businesses. My dear friend cleans up the world’s water – we live to be 77 years old today because of the availability of clean water. Another of my friends helps build the systems that provide our country’s defense. Others build space shuttles, computers, communications systems, ipods, ipads, iphones, artificial joints, airports and airplanes, pacemakers, the screws in my knee. Engineers around the world provide water conveyance systems (pipes and pumps) to villages. Do you know what happens in those villages when the water is provided through pipes and pumps? Women don’t have to serve as water mules any more – they don’t have to spend their lives going to get the water that the village needs to survive. They can go to school instead!

Engineers make the world work and make such a difference in the world. Women make great engineers – and yes, we do LOOK like engineers!

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  1. gretchen on June 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Jill – what an interesting viewpoint! You are correct that engineering technology takes the burden off of many women and empowering women is one of the keys to ending poverty. That must be a very satisfying feeling to know you are helping so many people become more self-sufficient.

    I do not know why more women get involved in the engineering field. I find it fascinating. I work with computers and code and I’m not at all afraid to disassemble my equipment and figure out how to fix it.

    I love that you did not ask for permission to change your degree – you just did it! Do you happen to know if there are more women getting involved in engineering or if the numbers consistently remain at a low level?

  2. Jill Tietjen on June 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Hi Gretchen,

    More women are pursuing degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields than when I was in college, but less than 20% of the B.S. degrees awarded in engineering go to women. Many people are working to change this including the Society of Women Engineers (, the Association for Women in Science (, and the National Center for Women and Information Technology ( One problem is that adult men and women in large numbers don’t know what engineers are or what engineers do – and don’t understand the value that engineers bring to our society. Engineers make the world work!

  3. Diane DiFrancesco on July 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

    We are kindered spirts gal! I went through similar hurtles back in the ’70’s. I received my BS Chem Eng from Clarkson College of Technology (now University) in 1977. There were 50 women in our class and we’re still supportive.
    I’ve been active in SWE for decades. As a senior member, now it’s time for me to give back (mentoring, serving on committee’s for Chicago Section).
    Let’s continue to spread the good news.
    Diane DiFrancesco
    DLD Quality Engineering
    Skokie, IL, USA

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