Liberty Gunter: Reluctant Engineer

Initially hesitant about entering the field, two awards recognize her contributions to engineering

7 April 2008

Liberty Gunter has racked up a number of accomplishments in the six years since she entered the engineering workforce. Employed by BAE Systems, a defense and aerospace company in Nashua, N.H., she has been on teams that earned the company’s highest award for innovation. She has been promoted to a high-level management position, and she has a patent pending.

Gunter, an IEEE member, recently added two more achievements: She won both the IEEE and the New Hampshire 2007 Young Engineer awards. The IEEE award, which she received in January, recognizes engineers 35 and younger for outstanding contributions to technical-society and humanitarian activities, as well as for evidence of leadership and technical competence through significant engineering achievements. Gunter, 29, was cited for her work in electrical and semiconductor engineering at BAE. The state award, which she got in February, recognized her contributions to the engineering profession and the public welfare.

Gunter is director of technology development for BAE’s Microwave Electronics Center, where she is responsible for identifying strategic technologies for the company to develop or acquire. Before she took on that position in September, she was a semiconductor engineer with the center’s R&D group.

“I’m more on the business side now than in engineering, and I enjoy the new job very much,” she says. “I like helping to choose the technologies we invest in.”

She joined BAE in 2002, after a yearlong internship there while she was earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Boston University. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Wheaton College of Norton, Mass.

“A lot of people at BAE showed me the ropes when I was interning: technicians, engineers, and managers,” Gunter says. “I always thought that when I ‘grew up’ in my career, I would give back what they gave me. Finding the technologies that will be strategic for the organization—especially for those who helped me along the way—means a lot.”

Gunter gives back in other ways as well. She volunteers as a mentor in the company’s Women in Technology program for high school students. She tries to interest the students in engineering by showing them the different jobs engineers do. She also cofounded the IEEE’s New Hampshire Women in Engineering affinity group in 2007, and serves as its 2008 chair.

RELUCTANT ENGINEER Growing up, Gunter didn’t want anything to do with engineering, because her grandfather, a physics professor, talked so incessantly about it. He turned her off to the field even though she excelled at physics in high school. Instead, she wanted a lucrative career in law. But she took a physics course at Wheaton to fulfill a science requirement, and the lab experiments got her so hooked that she switched her major.

“The independent lab work was more free-flowing than regular homework,” she says. “I was able to steer the direction of the experiment, and that got me energized.”

While an undergraduate, she was accepted into the Research Experience for Undergrads, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. It’s a 10-week program that gives students the chance to work alongside graduate students during the summer at university research labs. She spent two summers in the program at North Carolina State, and was invited back the second time after REU lauded her study of the structural characteristics of titanium nitride thin films in semiconductors.

She joined the IEEE in grad school because it was the “thing to do,” she says, adding that she renews her membership because of the networking opportunities and the ability to develop leadership skills.

“To move up in one’s career, you not only have to be good technically, but you also need good leadership skills,” she says. “As a founding member of my section’s WIE group, I took on an executive position that presents challenges that I can learn from and use later in my career.”

EQUINE ENJOYMENT Gunter credits her love of horses with helping her develop her drive to succeed. She has been involved in horse competitions since she was a 4-year-old growing up in Carrollton, Mass. Later, she was on Wheaton’s equestrian team.

Nowadays, she competes in four or five local dressage competitions each summer. Dressage is a structured form of competitive horse riding that develops the animal’s athletic ability and willingness to perform.

“I always try to press upon the young girls I mentor the need for an outlet,” she says. “I don’t think I could have my drive if didn’t have horses in my life. As driven as I am at work, I’m just as passionate about my two horses.”

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