Surveys about attracting and retaining female engineers consistently demonstrate the need for strong role models. Here The Institute highlights three IEEE volunteers who have become leaders. They are giving back to society by supporting IEEE’s mission to advance technology to benefit humanity, and they are especially dedicated to encouraging young women to enter the field.
Director-Elect of IEEE Region 2 (Eastern United States)
A senior materials engineer at the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center, in Aberdeen, Md., Duncan leads nearly a dozen engineers developing next-generation power sources. Her current focus is on wireless power transfer, which would enable soldiers to charge their electronics, including radios, GPS receivers, computers, and digital cameras, without cumbersome cables.
She was lucky, she says, to receive encouragement from positive role models. Her middle-school math teacher, a woman, fostered her curiosity and inclination toward math and science. Duncan went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., in 1998 and 1999. There, again, she had encouraging role models. “Faculty members can either make or break you,” she says. “The faculty at Stevens helped make me.”
After graduation, she joined Johanson Manufacturing, a maker of capacitors and other electronic devices in Boonton, N.J., as a design engineer. Johanson had recently bought a small French company that engineered and made dielectric materials. Because of Duncan’s interest in and knowledge of the materials, she became a liaison between the two staffs, leading the development of new products. Her enthusiasm and inquisitiveness helped her get ahead, she says: “If you enjoy what you’re doing, other people see your enthusiasm—which can lead to new opportunities.”
After earning her Ph.D. in applied physics from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark, in 2008, Duncan joined the Army as a civilian engineer. She is also an adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Delaware in Newark, where she mentors students pursuing bachelor’s and advanced degrees.
She joined IEEE in 2005 as a graduate student. After meeting IEEE volunteers at a workshop, she volunteered in the IEEE North Jersey Section, and she quickly moved up the ranks. Now as IEEE Region 2 director-elect, she enjoys working on outreach activities to increase membership and attract preuniversity students, particularly girls, to engineering. Activities have included hosting programming courses, using Raspberry Pi and Arduino, at schools serving low-income communities in Philadelphia. She also organized an IEEE leadership summit, where she taught other leaders ways to get kids interested in engineering. She says she appreciates the impact she can have on the next generation of engineers.
Chair, IEEE Women in Engineering
Hashimoto grew up in Tokyo during the nation’s economic boom in the 1960s. Her parents underscored the importance of being independent and someone who contributes to society. With a penchant for science, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Ochanomizu University, in Tokyo. She realized she was interested in computer programming, too, and earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 2005 from the University of Tsukuba, in Japan. Her thesis was on multimedia information processing.
While pursuing her Ph.D., she worked at a Ricoh R&D center, where she led software development teams. She joined Chiba University of Commerce, in Ichikawa, Japan, as an associate professor in 2009. This year (2016) she was appointed director of its Institute of Economic Research.
Hashimoto teaches digital image processing, Web image design, and information media theory at the university. Her research at Ricoh, where she is a senior vice president, focuses on data mining and social media analysis. She monitors social media feeds to see how events affect people. To better understand human reactions to natural disasters, for example, she is analyzing some 200 million tweets sent during the 2011 earthquake that shook northeastern Japan.
She joined IEEE nine years ago, encouraged by her boss at Ricoh, a female engineer whom Hashimoto calls her role model. Hashimoto says she treasures the mentors and friends who provided critical support early in her career and when she faced the challenges of being a working mother. They motivated her and helped her become a leader.
She served as the coordinator of IEEE Region 10 Women in Engineering from 2011 to 2014, and was the WIE chair in 2015. As an IEEE volunteer and leader, she has enjoyed expanding her global connections. “Thanks to IEEE, I have a lot of international friends and research partners,” she says, “and have the pleasure of working with people around the globe, especially young female engineers.” Her words of wisdom for those young engineers: “Be brave. Never hesitate to pursue your dreams. And develop your career through the many opportunities available to you,” including those provided by IEEE and WIE.
Mary Ellen Randall
Director of IEEE Region 3 (Southeastern United States)
When Randall was an undergraduate in the 1970s at the State University of New York at Binghamton, the liberal arts college had no engineering school. Randall, a mathematics major, tried a computer-programming course at the business school, enjoyed it, and went on to take every computer science course she could find there. After gaining a bachelor’s degree in 1975, she joined IBM as a programmer, developing design automation software. She pursued a master’s degree in computer science part time, and earned it in 1980.
Today she is CEO of Ascot Technologies, a company in Cary, N.C., that develops software for wireless phones and devices. She started the company in 2000 with her son, a software engineer. Ascot develops custom applications for businesses, as well as products including a home health-monitoring system that wirelessly communicates patient data to medical professionals.
Before founding Ascot, she spent 22 years at IBM. Within six years of joining, and just after having her first child, she was asked to take on a management role for a software development department. From there, she went on to lead several hardware and software projects.
She has been an IEEE volunteer for 25 years. As director of Region 3, she led the development of the IEEE MOVE Community Outreach Project. In partnership with the American Red Cross, the MOVE (MObile VEhicle) project customized a disaster relief vehicle to provide cellphone- and battery-charging stations and satellite Internet access to people affected by natural disasters. The vehicle became operational in March.
Communications skills are crucial if women are to be recognized for their work and become leaders, she says: “You need to show what you’re doing, how you’re progressing, and what your accomplishments are. Don’t be afraid to take opportunities when they come up. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Keep learning.
“Demonstrating confidence is also key,” she adds. “If you are unsure of yourself, fake it. You will soon know that you belong at the table.”
This article is part of our April 2016 special report on women in engineering.