In 1921, Lucille Thomson became the first woman to enroll at NC State, taking classes in electrical engineering. It’s debated whether or not she graduated in 1923. Twenty years after Thomson’s enrollment, Katharine Stinson became the first confirmed woman to receive an NC State engineering degree, a B.S. in mechanical engineering, aeronautical option, in 1941.
Over the last century, NC State Engineering’s demographics have changed, with more women and people from diverse racial backgrounds enrolling in the College, joining the faculty and taking on leadership roles. The two most recent incoming engineering classes are each about 33% women, which is a new milestone, and the College of Engineering’s Women in Engineering Program celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which helped women and girls advance in a number of areas, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The NC State Engineering Foundation (NCSEF) Board of Directors has followed suit, taking deliberate steps to invite more women and minorities to serve on the board. Today, nine of the 28 members of the NCSEF board are women, and women chair four of its seven committees. Like everyone who serves on the NCSEF board, these women are highly accomplished in their careers and dedicated to helping NC State be the best it can be.
“I’m very proud of the board,” said CCEE alumnus Deborah Young, the board’s first Black president and one of its first female members. “We were willing to be different and to include others.”
‘Diversity of thought’
NCSEF was established in 1944 to aid and promote, by financial assistance and otherwise, engineering education and research at NC State. Today it is led by Young and Vice President Scott Stabler, B.S. mechanical engineering ’82. The board works with the dean and the advancement team to help advise the College’s growth and outreach, through efforts that include developing Centennial Campus, starting the Young Alumni Advisory Board and most recently, supporting the completion of Fitts-Woolard Hall.
In 1994, CCEE alumnus Beverly McKim (BSCE 1980), was the first woman to join the NCSEF board, where she helped guide the College through a period of growth and the early stages of Centennial Campus. She served through 1998.
McKim never felt out of place as the only woman on the board, and she had been encouraged to pursue engineering from a young age. “All of the board members were very welcoming,” she said. “It was an inclusive environment, and I felt like a part of the team.”
Several more women joined in the late 1990s: Gayle Lanier, B.S. industrial engineering ‘82; and CCEE alumni Barbara Mulkey (BSCE 1977) and Young.
“I was very used to being ‘the only woman in the meeting,’ the ‘first woman in this position,’ etc., because of the field I had chosen,” Mulkey said. “What I recall of that experience was that when I spoke, I was listened to; however, I found myself battling inside with feeling like I probably didn’t have as much experience and thus insights to offer, as it seemed that almost everyone in the room was a good bit older than I was.”
During their tenure, the board improved its philanthropy strategies, established scholarships and implemented eight-year term limits, with the option for members to return. The last accomplishment was particularly important to diversifying and growing the board.
“By establishing these term limits, we were able to begin to change the face of the board — still get the same input, but have diversity of thought, diversity of background, and more women to participate on the board,” Lanier said.
In 2018, Suzanne Gordon, B.S. computer science and mathematics ’75, became the first female president of the board. She joined in 2010, after serving on the NC State Board of Trustees, which was also making efforts to bring on more women.
“We want students to look at the Foundation board and see themselves or at least people who look like them,” she said. “So, when you bring in diversity, you bring in different ideas and perspectives, that leads to better problem solving and promotes creativity.”
During her first term on the board, Young worked with Lanier to lead the way in establishing term limits and new guidelines for inviting potential board members. Young, chair of the Nominations, Orientation and Recognition Committee; Alvin Sumter, vice chair and B.S. industrial and systems engineering ‘87; and their team evaluated the members’ demographics — when they graduated, their discipline, ethnicity, residence and more — and developed a system to attract and recruit more diverse candidates.
Now, the board is more reflective of NC State Engineering’s growing and more diverse student body, which is important as the board supports the College.
“We are more diverse in our thinking,” Young said. “We don’t have the same people, same professions. When you have that diversity, it really helps you become more inclusive.”
To learn more about board service for the College of Engineering or to nominate someone, contact Griffin Lamb at email@example.com.