Forty years of CEE Women


MARYANN HART CHISHOLM, Colonel, USAF (Ret.), P.E., '78

When Maryann Hart arrived at Lehigh in 1974, all she knew for sure was that she was headed to a technical career. Engineering appealed to her because she could immediately see the product of her work, and because what she would be doing would make a difference in people's lives.

The future Col. Chisholm seemed destined for Lehigh. It was close: Bethlehem's proximity to Scranton, Pa. meant home was only 90 minutes away (a big plus during the gas crisis years of the late 1970s). It was in her blood: Chisholm's grandfather and uncle both graduated from Lehigh as engineers. "It intrigued me to realize my interests followed theirs … I liked the idea of carrying on family tradition," she says. But mostly, for an intrepid young woman who excelled at math and science, "the fact that I could study engineering at a formerly all-male school offered a challenge I couldn't resist."

That challenge would prove an ideal training ground for the future military engineer and officer. Chisholm's membership in Chi Epsilon taught her the value of collegial relationships. Her election to the ASCE student chapter presidency would set the stage for a lifetime in leadership. And her education in the Air Force ROTC gave her confidence as well as credentials. "My technical skills easily held up with engineering officers from some of the best schools across the country," she says.

After 22 years of service, the Air Force chose Chisholm to command the Mission Support Group at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Her job: Lead 2400 military and civilian personnel supporting a base of 12,000 people, including families. She was effectively its mayor, overseeing engineering, security, human relations, communications, contracting, logistics, and many services. "We did great things, both at Minot and abroad, in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," she recalls proudly.

Chisholm retired from the Air Force and went to work in industry for URS Corporation, one of the largest architect-engineering firms in the world. While there she led a department serving federal clients, planning and designing projects ranging from campus-wide infrastructure upgrades to a major cyber complex. Chisholm has since returned to government work, leading facilities engineering for a defense agency in the Washington, D.C. area.

"A large proportion of the government and industry engineers I work with now are women, and it's not even a big deal," says Chisholm. "I still think it's remarkable, given how few there were even well into the early 1990s, but we're reaching a point from which we'll all benefit.

"It's very healthy that women are no longer a novelty, and we don't have so many 'firsts'—it's just accepted that women are equal partners and can excel in engineering. Engineering is a great meritocracy, and Lehigh did well to prepare me."



Melissa Rohland's father is a civil engineer and a Lehigh alumnus. Throughout her childhood, he would take the family to his job sites, and they spent many fun weekends helping him in his office. She loved reading the blueprints, and he loved sharing his work. He never expected her to become an engineer.

"Dad played football and lacrosse at Lehigh, joined a fraternity, and made a lot of lifelong friends. Every year he took us to the campus to attend football games and tour the campus," she says. "I remember saying, 'I'm going to go to Lehigh,' and my dad would say, "Only boys can go to Lehigh."

Dad graduated from Lehigh in 1957. Thirty years later, Melissa would do the same.

Mom knew best. Seeing promise in the profession, Rohland's mother encouraged her eldest daughter to apply to engineering schools. "Fortunately, by that time, Lehigh was co-ed," says Rohland.

Yet Lehigh wasn't a slam-dunk for the future basketball cheerleader—at first. She applied to five other schools—some for engineering, some for art, and some for liberal arts. But when she learned that Lehigh offered an Arts and Engineering program, her sights were set. The program accepted her.

"Having the dual major of civil engineering and fine art was so much fun," says Rohland. "It let me use both sides of my brain. I worked so hard, but loved (almost) every minute of it!"

Ever the sports fan, Rohland has many happy memories of attending football games, basketball games, and wrestling matches. She was on the cheerleading squad in 1985 when Lehigh met Georgetown in the NCAA basketball tournament. And she remembers well the lessons learned from being one of only two women in a civil engineering class of 42. "Being in a male-dominated classroom setting provided some preparation for the male-dominated workforce," she says.

A career that started in water and wastewater design paved the way to leadership positions in the industrial construction and the professional services industries. In 2007 Rohland joined Bentley Systems, a company that delivers comprehensive software solutions to architects, engineers and constructors. Today, as Bentley's Project Management Office Leader for the Americas, managing people, resources, and millions of dollars in business is all in a day's work for the professional project manager. She tips her hard hat to Lehigh for the preparation that made possible her success.

"Being in the engineering world means you're around interesting people, you are solving interesting problems, and you can use your engineering foundation no matter what path you might follow. And being a Lehigh graduate opens doors because Lehigh has an amazing reputation for graduating high achievers that become leaders."



Young Jennifer Hallowell's story is a familiar one. Prospective student visits Lehigh. Wants to study math, physics, something science-related, but is more interested in their application than theory. Sees a cool brochure (or maybe it was a poster) about buildings, bridges, and other impressive things that civil engineers design. Then it hits her: Structural engineering is applied physics!

Hallowell decides she's going to design structures. She applies to Lehigh to pursue her bachelor's degree through the department of civil and environmental engineering. She gets the job done with highest honors.

Fast-forward to 2008. Responding to a need in the marketplace, Lehigh launches the first of its new professional master’s programs, the Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) in Structural Engineering. A national search for its director ensues. Jennifer H. Gross, P.E., decides she's going to throw her hat in the ring. She applies to the department of civil and environmental engineering. She gets the job.

After grad school and 12 years of industry experience, Jen Gross has come full circle, back to the place that helped launch her career. Only she's not designing structures, she's educating designers.

Gross came to Lehigh after just completing four years of work on the Gaylord National Harbor, working closely with an architect and construction manager who were also women. For all three, it was one the first projects in which each played a major role from start to finish. "In a field dominated by men, it was interesting that three women landed on the same project at the same time," recalls Gross. She loved the work, and had just given birth to her first child. Yet when the M.Eng. opportunity knocked, she had to answer it.

"It was a chance to do something completely different, to create and shape a brand-new program, to take what I've learned and teach and mentor future engineers," says Gross. "The prospect of it all was really exciting to me."

As both the director of the program and its professor of practice, Gross teaches three graduate-level design project classes, supervises student design teams, works with an industry advisory board and supports the program's recruitment efforts. She recently took on the additional role of ASCE Student Chapter adviser. There's a sense of déjà vu in it all for the student-turned-professor.

"So much of what I learned during my undergrad years informs how I work today," says Gross. "Lehigh is where I learned how to manage multiple deadlines, demands and projects. My extracurriculars taught me how to talk to people who weren't engineers. And the chance to do undergraduate research at ATLSS opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities."

This summer the M. Eng. in Structural Engineering program will welcome the Class of 2013, its fifth. Gross looks back with pride on the program's growing network of successful, supportive alumni. "It's awesome to see students get excellent jobs and do well. Someday, perhaps, it'll be one of them, accomplishing the next great structural engineering feat in the world."



Like Chisholm, Rohland and Gross before her, Jenn Caffrey came to Lehigh strong in math and science, curious about how things work, heading towards engineering but unsure about which discipline to follow.

But where her predecessors could count on one hand the number of women in their major classes, Caffrey could often count hers in double digits. "I'd guess that about 40 percent of my engineering classmates were women," she estimates.

Her estimate stands the test of time. As of the fall 2011 Lehigh census, 38 percent of civil engineering undergraduates were female, as were 46 percent of their environmental engineering counterparts. When it came time to declare her major, Caffrey decided to split the difference, earning her bachelor's degree in civil with a concentration in environmental. "I've always been interested in the earth, conservation and sustainable development," she says, appreciative of a curriculum that would let her pursue both.

Caffrey credits her mechanically inclined dad as her earliest career inspiration. But nature and nurture aside, that she and her contemporaries have grown so numerous is no accident. They belong to a generation steered toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics—what's collectively known as the STEM disciplines—like never before. At Lehigh, programs such as CHOICES and ADVANCE are creating such opportunities for girls and women, both here on campus and out in the community. Caffrey herself gives back as an ACE Mentor, working on real-world design projects with public and charter school students interested in architecture, construction and engineering.

Caffrey knows well the long-term value of authentic experience. As a member of Lehigh's Integrated Learning Experience (ILE) program, she joined forces with her interdisciplinary peers to design a new golf range proposed for the Goodman Campus. The team tackled everything from choosing the site and sizing the development to producing the first design concepts and cost estimates. "It's one of my best Lehigh memories because it allowed me to work with students from all different majors and interest areas," says Caffrey. "We had a real project with design constraints and problems to solve, all very similar to the type of projects I work on today."

As a rising senior, Caffrey's summer internship in the Lehigh Valley office of Pennoni Associates led to a job offer at graduation. Today she's a project engineer in Pennoni's Philadelphia office, working primarily on the development of new commercial buildings. Her project portfolio includes Philly's Cira Centre, the VA Medical Center, the University of the Sciences, and closer to home, a Toyota dealership on Lehigh Street in Allentown. She cherishes the brick-and-mortar quality of her work. "I can drive through parts of Pennsylvania and point out to family and friends that I helped design that development. There's a great sense of pride in that."

--Shelley Drozd