Slideshow: The Women of Rensselaer That Led the Way

Teresa Cheeks, Master of Science in Materials Engineering 1982

Theresa Cheeks Theresa Cheeks earned her masters degree at Rensselaer in materials science and engineering.  She later earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University.  In February 1991 she was named Most Promising Engineer during the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  The award is given by the US Black Engineer magazine in recognition of outstanding Black Americans in engineering and science.


Carolyn Chin, Bachelor of Science in Management Engineering 1969

Carolyn ChinMs. Chin had an exceptional academic career at Rensselaer.  She received both   General Mills and RPI Alumni scholarships, was on the Dean's List, and was listed in Who's Who.  She was involved in campus organizations and activities, including the Transit, Campus Chest, Leadership Training Program, Westminster Club, Freshman Orientation, and Student Council.  Ms. Chin served on the Grand Marshall Cabinet, and was the first female president of the Independent Council.  She was also the first woman to be elected to Rensselaer's honorary societies Phanlanx and White Key.

After receiving an MBA from Harvard, Ms. Chin joined Macy's merchandizing staff.  Five years later she became a marketing manager at AT&T, where she developed the popular Mickey Mouse phone and other consumer products.  She was named New Jersey's "outstanding young woman" of 1977, and was cited by Glamour magazine as one of the ten "oustanding young working women in America" that year.

In 1978 she was selected as one of 15 White House Fellows, and spent a year working with HUD Secretary Patricia Harris.  Ms. Chin is currently Director of Strategic Development at IBM.

Rose Dill, Master of Science in Chemistry 1967; Ph.D. in Urban and Environmental Studies 1983

Rose DillRose Dill began her career as a research assistant in biochemistry, but eventually left as she watched her male coworkers receive promotions that were not extended to her.  She pursued her graduate degrees at Rensselaer, which she found "particularly supportive" of her.  At Rensselaer she discovered the value of mentoring and its relationship to a quality education.

In 1989 she was the deputy director of the New York State Division for Women, where she developed programs for child care and support, women affected by AIDS, disabled women, and victims of sex discrimination.  She was also an Adjunct Professor in Rensselaer's Urban and Environmental Studies Program (Rensselaer, March 1989).  Ms. Dill is now the Executive Director of the New York State Citizens Advisory Committee for Low-Level Radioactive Waste.

 Nancy Deloye Fitzroy, Bachelor of Chemical Engineering 1949

Nancy Deloye FitzroyMs. Fitzroy worked for General Electric in Schenectady from1950 until her retirement in 1987, where she became Program Development Manager for the Turbine Marketing and Projects Division.

She has earned many honors, including the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award (1972) and the Demers Medal for outstanding service to RPI (1975).  She received the Distinguished Service Award in 1996 from the Rensselaer Alumni Association, was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1978, and in 1985 she became the first woman president of ASME.  She also sponsored the Nancy Fitzroy Scholarship Fund at Rensselaer to encourage young women to pursue careers in science and technology.  In 1999 Ms. Fitzroy's acomplishments were again recognized when she was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame.

In a 1985 article (Faculty/Alumni File), Ms. Fitzroy said she never had the feeling of not being accepted (at RPI).  She also stated she would "love to be able to tell you that life was really tough back then but if it was, I was having too good a time to notice."  Ms. Fitzroy's advice to future female engineers:

Lois Graham, Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering 1946

Lois GrahamLois Graham was one of the first two female graduates of Rensselaer after she completed an accelerated wartime program in 1946.  She began her career in industry, and later became the first woman in the country to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (at the Illinois Institute of Technology).  She subsequently joined the faculty at Illinois as a professor of mechanical engineering.  She is currently Professor Emeritus at that institution (1991 Transit).

In 199l Ms. Graham returned to Rensselaer as a distinguished speaker at the Panhellenic Association's 6th Annual Meeting and Awards Tea.  She shared her experience as one of the first women students at Rensselaer, and discussed the challenges she faced upon entering the field of engineering

Catherine MacKay Hastings, Bachelor of Science in Chemistry 1953

Catherine MacKay HastingsAccording to a 1953 article in the Troy Record, "hers has been a college career of Firsts."  Miss MacKay was the first woman to be a member of a school athletic team (tennis), the first woman to win the SAX Public Speaking Award, and the first woman to be elected to a senior class office (vice president).  She was featured in a Collier's report on the plethora of professional opportunities awaiting the Class of 1953.

Miss Mackay was the recipient of an Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship which enabled her to pursue graduate work at the University of Rochester.  She earned an Masters in Radiation Biology and Atomic Physics after which she was employed by General Electric in Schenectady, New York.

In 1956 she decided "give up the professional world and become a full time homemaker."  According to Ms. Hastings, "life was challenging with 9 moves and 5 daughters to raise.  I have often credited my rigorous training at RPI for having me well prepared."

Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Shirley Ann Jackson In December 1998 the Rensselaer Board of Trustees unanimously selected Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson as the 18th president of the Institute. When she assumed the presidency in July 1999, Dr. Jackson initiated a campus wide planning process, resulting in the Rensselaer Plan the following year. Under the plan the Institute's goal is "to achieve greater prominence in the 21st century as a top-tier world-class technological research university with global reach and global impact."

Dr. Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science in physics and a doctorate in theoretical elementary particle physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She served as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995-1999), professor of physics at Rutgers University and consultant at Bell Laboratories (1991-1995), researcher at Bell Laboratories (1976-1991), and she held research positions at major research labs in the United States and Europe.,

President Jackson is a trustee of Georgetown University, Rockefeller University, the Emma Willard School, the Pingry School, and is a life member of the M.I.T. Corporation. She serves on several boards of directors and has received more than 20 honorary degrees. She is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Jackson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1998) and the Women in Technology International Foundation Hall of Fame (2000). She was also named the 2001 Black Engineer of the Year by US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine.

Roberta Kankus, Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering 1973

Roberta Kankus Roberta Kankus was the first woman to hold a Senior Reactor Operator's license for a commercial nuclear power plant while working at the Philadelphia Electric Company's Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.  She is currently a Senior Strategic Planner at PECO.


Sonja Krause, Bachelor of Science in Chemistry 1954

Sonja KrauseDr. Krause is currently Professor of Chemistry at Rensselaer.  As a student she was a member of the Outing Club, American Chemical Society, and the Astrophysical Society, for which she served as Secretary Treasurer and President.

Professor Krause indicated that she came to RPI because she was somewhat of a rebel and relished the challenge.  She was serious about her work as a chemist and did not want the trappings of a traditional female education.  She also remembers her experience at Rensselaer as great fun, and has generously allowed the Archives to display her personal photographs from her student years at RPI.

Carmen Lucci, Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering 1975

Carmen LucciMs. Lucci was the first female ROTC cadet at Rensselaer, and was the only woman in the nation to receive a full Air Force Scholarship according to a November 7, 1973 article from the Polytechnic.  At RPI she studied aeronautical engineering, and later enrolled in the Air Force Test Pilot School in California.  Ms. Lucci died in 1981 having attained the rank of Captain.


Nancy S. Mueller, Trustee

Nancy MuellerNancy Mueller received her bachelor degree in chemistry from Russell Sage College in 1965.  She worked as a research chemist for Syntex Corporation, and in 1977 founded Nancy's Specialty Foods, a frozen food manufacturing company in Newark, California.  The company has been used as a case study in the New Enterprise Development Course at Stanford Graduate School of Business.  Mueller also serves on the school's Advisory Council.

Ms. Mueller is a member of Rensselaer's Board of Trustees, the George M. Low Society of the Patroons of Rensselaer, and is chair of the School of Science Advisory Council.  In 1999 she was named Entrepreneur of the Year for her business achievements.

Jeanne Cassavant Pedersen, Bachelor of Science in Physics 1953; Ph.D.

Jeanne Cassavant Pedersen There were few female students and even fewer services for them in 1949 when Jeanne Cassavant entered RPI as a freshman. Most women lived in rented rooms in town, but Miss Cassavant started college life in her family home in Troy. In 1951 she married fellow student Norman Pedersen (RPI Class of 1953) and moved into Rensselaerwyck, a married student housing community that was located east of the Fieldhouse. Mr. and Mrs. Pedersen were featured on the cover of the July 1953 issue of Rensselaer Alumni News when they became the Institute's first married couple to graduate together. The Pedersens later returned to Rensselaer and received their doctorates in physics in the 1960s.

Dr. Pedersen's career has included work as a staff scientist at Avco Corporation and teaching at Wilmington (Massachusetts) High School. She is also president of Pedersen Inc. in Wilmington.

Janet C. Rutledge, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering 1983

Janet C. Rutledge Janet Rutledge attended RPI on a full scholarship from AT&T Bell Laboratories and received her Masters (1984) and Ph.D. (1990) degrees from Georgia Tech while on a full fellowship from Bell Communications Research.  She was on the faculty at Northwestern University between 1990 to 1995 in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, with an adjunct appointment in the Audiology and Hearing Sciences Department. She has been a research associate professor at University of Maryland Medical System since September 1997. Now, she is a Program Director at National Science Foundation in the Division of Engineering Education and Centers .

Dr. Rutledge has been actively involved in many organization, including the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, the Rensselaer Alumni Association, and currently serves on RPI's Board of Trustees.  She encourages female and minority alumni to work with high school and pre-college students to nurture their interest in science and technology. She has a patent for an innovative hearing device based on digital speech processing. She is a firm believer in mentor programs and knows that students need role models.  "It is very hard to do something if you can't picture yourself doing it, if you can't imagine what that life is like."

Vicki Seltzer, Bachelor of Science in Psychology 1969

Vicki SeltzerDr. Vicki Seltzer has served as Director of the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Queens Hospital; Associate Professor of ob/gyn at SUNY Stoneybrook; and surgeon and Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.  She published Every Woman's Guide to Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Breast Cancer in 1987 as part of her campaign to educate the public on breast cancer.  She is also a president of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In addition to her  professional commitments, Dr. Seltzer and her husband, Richard Brach, are raising two children.

Reva Servoss, Master of Science in Chemistry 1951; Ph.D. 1954

Reva Gricener ServossReva Gricener Servoss was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. at Rensselaer.  She chaired the Department of Chemistry at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Kansas.

In 1942 she fled her native Belgium after the Nazis invaded and took away her family.  She avoided capture during the war, and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Liege (Belgium) in 1948.  She then emigrated to the United States to study chemistry and nuclear science at Rensselaer, where she met her husband, William C. Servoss (Class of 1950).

According to Dr. Servoss, the most difficult aspect of her life at Rensselaer was the social atmosphere.  Her activities were limited because the coeds were often excluded from campus events such as dances, theater productions, etc.  They lived in a small house off campus, and were thus physically removed from the center of activity.  She remembers her teaching assignment as being particularly difficult; she was repeatedly challenged or ignored by students who would not accept a female teaching assistant.

Nevertheless, Dr. Servoss remembers her experience at Rensselaer in a positive light.  She largely attributes her academic success to her faculty advisor, Professor Herbert Clark, who offered her tremendous support and encouragement.  She values the education she received and states that her social experience was excellent preparation for the difficulties she faced when entering the professional world.

Gertrude Berkmann Thun, Bachelor of Science in Building Sciences 1967

Gertrude Berkmann ThunTrudy Thun is the President of Thun Associates Architects in Schenectady, New York.  She is also a past president of the Eastern New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1982).

Her professional work includes The Lawrence Center Independence House in Schenectady, which is the first living and training center for physically handicapped, mentally alert adults in New York.  The design provides for wheelchair bound, visually impaired, and hearing impaired adults in a pilot program for affordable transitional housing.  Construction of the facility was completed in January 1985.

Bonnie Wallace, Bachelor of Science in Chemistry 1973

Bonnie WallaceAfter graduating from Rensselaer, Bonnie Wallace earned a doctorate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale in 1977.  Professor Wallace left a position at Columbia University in 1986 to join the Chemistry Department at Rensselaer, where she was honored with a Fogarty Senior International Fellowship.  She currently lives in Great Britain and works in the Department of Crystallography at Birkberg College in the University of London.


Archives Staff

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