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Meet Our WEPAN Presidents

March 5, 2024

For over thirty years, WEPAN has connected people, research, and practice to increase participation, retention and success of women and other underrepresented groups in engineering from college to executive levels. In that time, WEPAN has been guided by a series of strong female presidents, all of whom have dedicated themselves and their careers to advancing cultures of inclusion and belonging.

We asked our past presidents about their time with WEPAN. They responded with thoughts on their favorite memories, their proudest accomplishments, how they first became interested in creating social change in engineering, and why they wanted to become involved with the organization.

Jamie Huber Ward, Research Associate, National Center for Women & Information Technology; President 23-24

I have a background in women and gender studies, and for over a decade have to one degree or another been involved in initiatives to increase women’s and girls’ representation in STEM fields, particularly technology related fields. I really became interested in this area in grad school after hearing a professor present her research on women’s representation in computing fields, using a specific program major as an anecdote. This specific program initially had a majority of women student enrollees, but a name shift from Office Information Systems to Computer Information Systems caused a reversal in this trend, even though the curriculum did not change. This really sparked my interest in recruiting and retaining women in STEM fields, and fields like computing and engineering in particular.

WEPAN has done so many impactful things, from creating resources, to curating resource collections, to offering professional development webinars, and much, much more. I’ve seen WEPAN make a huge difference in the larger community by forging personal and professional connections. I have seen WEPAN be a home and “place” of respite for so many members. WEPAN intentionally holds space—whether it be physical or virtual space—where members can support one another, learn from one another, receive nurturing from one another, be vulnerable together, and share joy together. And these are very special spaces due to the compassion and care members have for one another.

Beth Anne Johnson, Owner, Lamar Creative Co.; President 22-23

Let me tell you, WEPAN is not just a community; it's pure magic. My incredible mentor, Serita Acker, not only sang praises about our warm and wonderful community but also nominated me for the board when I stepped into the role of Associate Director of Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) at Clemson. Then, while serving on the board, I met WEPAN President Lee Ann Schwope. She mentored me, and before I knew it, I was stepping into the role of president myself. 

I want to engineer a future filled with equitable gains and boundless joy. As a social scientist, I explore the intersection of gender identity and its impact on our experiences. The statistics in engineering are similar to the results we see in our wages, our leisure experiences, our media experiences (think Hollywood directors) and more. Recognizing the profound connections, I'm on a mission to showcase how empowering women in engineering not only boosts financial gains, education, and careers but also paves the way for transformative social change.

Sonya Smith, Professor & Director, Atmospheric Sciences Program, Howard University; President 2021-2022

A friend of mine at the University of Maryland was very involved with WEPAN, which at the time was an organization for women in engineering program directors. Howard didn’t have a WIEP, but I was very interested in what WEPAN was working on and was excited to join the board when the opportunity came. 

When WEPAN started, it was the only organization of its type who was thinking about these types of issues. Today there are many more, but WEPAN still has a special role to play in collating and setting agendas for women in engineering programs when talking about equity and social justice.

Sheila Ross, Professor and Department Chair, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Milwaukee School of Engineering; President 20-21

When I was finishing graduate school, I received a very strong message that yes, as a woman I would be able to succeed in engineering but only if I followed a certain life path—no off-ramps or on-ramps allowed for those who might want to prioritize other work, such as caregiving for a period of time. I saw this as just another excuse to exclude talented women from the profession by artificially de-valuing the perceived potential of those who follow different life paths. The work that WEPAN members have done in researching and implementing training for hiring committees serves as a great resource for those who wish to end these practices of exclusion, but there is still much work to be done. 

Around the same time I joined WEPAN, I also began learning about invisible disabilities that are common within the engineering student population, and how those disabilities not only affect those diagnosed but also those around them. I believe that lack of knowledge about neurodiversity is a contributor to attrition among neurodiverse engineering students as well as those who encounter challenges such as stereotype threat and lack of educational social capital. In WEPAN I have a network of colleagues who share my interests in these topics and are my partners in advancing social change.

Mary Juhas, President, the Juhas Group; President 15-16

I first learned about WEPAN in 2002 as a new assistant dean in the College of Engineering. A member of my staff, the director of the Women in Engineering Program, had recently returned from the WEPAN annual meeting in San Juan, PR. She was brimming with enthusiasm about the power of the WEPAN network. The next year, in 2003, I attended my first annual conference in Chicago and was quickly convinced that I wanted to know more about it and make new friends.The experience of that first WEPAN conference was eye-opening. Until then, I couldn’t imagine that there was an organized entity with membership who were like-minded; people who wanted to solve the problem and change the culture. It was exciting to meet the founders and the early leaders and influencers.

Helping to expand the board membership to include decision-makers such as deans, industry influencers and more men was one of my primary goals. It wasn’t necessarily popular at the time. I wanted to raise our profile among constituencies whose perception of WEPAN was solely a diversity organization. We are so much more!

Jenna Carpenter, Founding Dean and Professor of Engineering, Campbell University; President 14-15

I was president during a time of change for WEPAN, as we launched into our second 25 years. So, I am probably most proud of the changes we as an executive committee made to position the organization for future success and the awesome leaders we were able to attract to continue the work. I joined WEPAN because I wanted to learn more about the challenges and research around issues impacting the success of women in engineering and expand my network in this area. WEPAN was the perfect organization to help me accomplish these goals!

My favorite WEPAN-related memory would have to be the wonderful friendships that I have made and the wonderful colleagues with whom I have been able to connect. These relationships continue to this day and have supported and informed my work!

Karen Zunkel, Executive Director, Institutional Research, Iowa State University; President 13-14

I was an engineer in industry before I came back to higher education to teach engineering. So I had experienced being one of a few female engineering students and engineers in the workplace. When I took on the role of Director for Women in Science and Engineering at Iowa State, WEPAN was a logical organization with which to connect. We wanted to learn from others, to leverage best practices, and to identify people at other institutions with whom to collaborate. WEPAN was nice in that the membership was diverse and large enough to bring together many ideas and perspectives, but also small enough that you could really make strong connections with people at other institutions.

As an undergraduate student and practicing engineer, I experienced some of the unintended biases that females in engineering face. From those initial experiences, I knew there was something I could do. I started out teaching engineering, which allowed me to impact students directly and serve as a visible role model. When I was leading the Women in Science and Engineering, I realized that while providing programs to support and encourage female students, to create real change we must also address the underlying system issues.

Julie Martin, Director of the Engineering Education Transformations Institute, University of Georgia; President 09-10

When I attended my first WEPAN conference in 2005, I said to myself “I want to be president of this organization”—can you believe that?  I had never been around so many like-minded people who were dedicated to equity. The community was so friendly and inviting and then-president Linda Scherr sat down with me after a workshop and asked me about myself and my WIE program. I felt like I had come home.

My time as president was a tremendous professional growth opportunity for me, I was young (mid 30s) and an assistant professor. Others on the board had already had these fantastic careers and respected titles so it was a privilege just to let me learn by leading; they were such great mentors to me. The thing I am most proud of in terms of a tangible contribution is the logo and branding. In 2006-2008-ish I was the chair of the communications committee and then the board liaison for communications when we developed the logo, name, and tagline that is still in use!

Tricia Berry, Executive Director of Women in STEM (WiSTEM), the University of Texas at Austin; President 08-09

The super welcoming WEPAN community freely shares resources, knowledge, and connections that support the work we all are doing to advance gender equity in engineering and STEM. The work that we do can sometimes feel isolating, so having a community where everyone is dealing with the same successes and struggles is valuable. I joined in to learn, connect, and grow. The WEPAN Knowledge Center was officially launched during my time as president. It had a whole team of people who made it happen, but I was proud to be leading an organization that created such an amazing resource for all of us working in this space.

I have been a strong advocate for gender equity since high school when I got tired of the school only celebrating the football team and never the volleyball team. My involvement in the Society of Women Engineers in college and my early engineering career, leading Take Your Daughter to Work Day at my company, and reading lots of books about feminism and gender equity easily built my passion in this space during my younger years.

Beth Holloway, Assistant Dean of Diversity and Engagement and Leah H. Jamieson Director of Women in Engineering, Purdue University; President 06-07

When I joined Purdue in 2001 as Women in Engineering Program director, I found out about WEPAN. I was so excited to learn that there was a national community of professionals who were interested in the success of women in engineering, and I wanted to be part of that community. I also found out that Purdue had been a strong part of the founding of WEPAN, and that also made me want to continue Purdue’s engagement with WEPAN. I have so appreciated the people that I’ve met through WEPAN, the professional development that I experienced, and the networks that I’ve become part of. And I’ve found some wonderful friends too.

When I was an engineer in industry.  I started moving beyond noticing that there were few women in engineering, and starting thinking about why there were so few women in engineering.  And then early in my career at Purdue, I read an article that said something to the effect of – what if there’s nothing “wrong” with the women, and there’s something “wrong” with the profession of engineering. That really activated some of my systems thinking and from there framed how I thought about what engineering is and what it could be.

Susan Staffin Metz, Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Stevens Institute of Technology; President 98-02 and WEPAN Co-Founder

The very first "WEPAN" conference that the National Science Foundation funded before WEPAN was officially formed was in 1989. At the last conference session, approximately 200 attendees voted to support the creation of a new organization dedicated to catalyzing change in engineering by increasing the representation of women. During my time as President, our work was acknowledged by the White House with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

I became interested in creating social change in engineering at the start of my career. I worked for a dean at Stevens Institute of Technology who believed that the key to increasing the representation of women in engineering study was to educate parents, teachers and guidance counselors about engineering and to engage young women in a discovery process. I was intrigued. He suggested I talk to Exxon Corporation about this idea and I walked out of their office with a $15,000 pledge. 

Jane Zimmer Daniels, President 91-93 and WEPAN Co-Founder

I was the Director of the Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University and I spent a significant amount of my time answering questions from people at other universities about how we started the Purdue program, where we got funded, and what activities were most effective in increasing the recruitment and retention of young women to engineering. Susan Metz was experiencing a similar phenomenon at Stevens Institute. We sent out an email to SWE Advisors and Deans of Engineering asking if they would be interested in a conference that would address programs for women in engineering. The response was overwhelming. 

With the help of Suzanne Brainard, who had just been hired at the University of Washington to address issues of concern related to women in engineering, we submitted a proposal to NSF's Career Access Program and received funding to hold the first conference of a Women in Engineering Program Administrators Network. At that initial conference, attendees discussed becoming a committee of SWE or ASEE. We received a mandate to start a separate organization and WEPAN was founded with Susan, Suzanne and me as founders, and, eventually, the first three presidents.

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