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Leading the Way: A Conversation with Margaret Bailey

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By Cecilia Elmore and Josa Hanzlik

If we could sum up Dr. Margaret Bailey's work in just a few words, it would be "passion driving programs." Passion to improve the environment for women students and faculty in engineering fields has motivated Dr. Margaret Bailey to put action behind her passion. Starting from a single event in 2003, she has developed an award winning Women in Engineering (WiE) program at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Currently, Bailey focuses her energy on increasing the number of women faculty at RIT within STEM (science , technology, engineering, and math) departments. Since 2012, she has been the principal investigator of a $3.5 million grant award from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program. The goal of the program is to increase representation and advancement of women STEM faculty by removing barriers to resources that support career success and creating new interventions and resources. Where does this passion come from?

Finding the Right Fit

Dr. Bailey admits there were not very many women around when she was an undergrad. She was at the top of her class, as were her female friends, so she figured they were smart enough to be professors, but wondered why there weren't many female professors (only two in her entire five years). This ignited the spark that said "maybe I can do that." As the only female in her Ph.D. program, and also pregnant, Bailey challenged the status quo and stretched the system and the faculty within it. The lack of support contributed to an experience that was less than positive, and caused her to seek another program that would suit her life and needs better. "As a graduate student, the environment where you study and its support system are both critical," says Bailey. The University of Colorado allowed her to grow in many different ways and nurture her desire for teaching and conducting research within engineering. In her subsequent positions, Bailey has made it a priority to create programs and support structures for female students and faculty that provide a positive learning experience.

RIT - The Path and the Impact

Dr. Margaret Bailey is currently at Rochester Institute of Technology as Senior Faculty Associate to the Provost for ADVANCE and she co-chairs the President's Commission on Women. She began her college career studying Architectural Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. She then received her Ph.D. in Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (Building Energy Program focus) from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Bailey began teaching at West Point and while she recognized the high level of all the cadets, she realized "making changes that addressed issues related to gender equity would be difficult." She made a strategic move to RIT when the right position became available. "When the Kate Gleason Endowed Chair position opened at RIT, I knew that RIT was into student development. They had an interest in gender diversity in their college and support from the Dean, faculty and staff." In her past and current positions, Dr. Bailey has led efforts focused on increasing the representation of women faculty and students at RIT.

Through Dr. Bailey's effort and support from the Dean, faculty and staff, Kate Gleason College (RIT Engineering College) witnessed a three-fold increase in the number of incoming female students annually (from approximately 50 to 150) while overall class size remained nearly constant. However, her dream goes beyond just increasing the number of women students. "The dream was that women can come here as students and get exposed to outreach and community building. When they are out in the workforce, they remember what it is like, how rewarding it is and how it can help promote them."

One Program at a Time

The journey from Bailey's initial girls outreach program, Park & Ride in 2004, to the large NSF grant in 2012 evolved step by step, one program at a time. "We opened Park & Ride, a pre-engineering amusement park design program for middle school girls, almost 10 years ago. There were 12 girls, and it was a blast. It developed a life of its own," Bailey said. When other colleges at RIT observed the success of the WE@RIT programs, women in other colleges began starting similar programs and groups at RIT. "By 2007, we knew each other through the Presidents Commission on Women at RIT. Then NSF ADVANCE came out with the Institutional Transformation Catalyst Grant which is a self-study grant which we were awarded in 2008." The grant was aimed at studying the lack of women faculty at RIT. Bailey wanted to know why the numbers were so low since "this is a good place for women to develop and thrive." After that grant, a larger grant was awarded. Bailey notes that: "there really is a progression from Park & Ride to the current NSF ADVANCE grant. It helps when you have a plan. You want to be fairly deliberate, where you can predict as much as possible. It takes a lot work, diligence, and concentrated effort on the goal."

Pay Attention to What Works

A gratifying observation from the successful programs Dr. Bailey has implemented is watching younger girls working with college aged young women. She advises starting small with an initial program that engages faculty, staff and students reaching out to younger community females. "It didn't take long to realize that college students are necessary for the sustainability of the programs, and that the girls enjoyed the time with the college students the most," Bailey noted. The college students are critical to the success of the programs."

Balancing time between teaching and administration

In addition to Dr. Bailey's successful women in engineering program at RIT, she is also co-author to a major engineering textbook, Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, currently in its seventh edition with Drs. Moran, Shapiro, and Boettner, and used worldwide in over 250 institutions. She notes that the balance between teaching and the administration of her newest NSF ADVANCE grant can be difficult. "I still enjoy teaching, and this semester I missed being in the classroom. It helps me as an academic. I need to teach and love thermo, it feeds the introvert in me. From the administrative side, I enjoy the strategic planning and data analysis." However, she does note that skills necessary for successful completion of the NSF ADVANCE grant serve in beneficial ways. "You can apply a lot of these skills to more social problems. I have very much enjoyed putting together a detailed strategic plan on paper."


Dr. Bailey has learned that all of us bring different perspectives and in order to be most effective, you need people around the table who think differently. Often being the only engineer in the room, she knows you need others who "think the polar opposite of engineers." Be prepared to work with others who may not understand your perspective," as she jokingly adds "they look at you like you have three heads!" She also notes her continual surprise at the lack of data that drives dialogues. Receiving a large grant helps people tolerate you a little more, reports Bailey, but NSF still requires outcomes and measurement, so an engineering perspective is valuable.

It is also important for women students and faculty to understand and practice salary negotiation as well as networking. Be brave enough to get what you need. Dr. Bailey has come a long way from the days when she started the "first female engineering group at West Point and met in the basement so the men couldn't see us." Thankfully, individuals like Dr. Bailey persevere so that things get done even when challenging the current structure. It takes dedicated people with a vision to continue to drive change and we look forward to following her success.

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