Last fall, leaders of the Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) student section at Cornell noticed that on that year’s Forbes “America’s Innovative Leaders” top 100 list, only one was a woman.
“We had this whole conversation surrounding that list, and we said, ‘Okay, this can’t be the case,’” said Madeline Dubelier ’20, SWE co-president. “We knew that there are certainly more female leaders who are doing amazing things than just that one – and we believed that many of them probably exist within the Cornell alumni community. We wondered, what can we do to feature them?”
The result is “Wall of Wonder: Cornell Women Leading the Way in Science, Technology and Engineering,” a book spotlighting 27 alumnae, set to publish in June. The book seeks to increase the visibility of women leaders, showcase and celebrate the breadth of what they have accomplished in science and technology, and commemorate some of the alumnae who have inspired the book’s graduating co-authors. All proceeds will go toward SWE’s K-12 outreach programs.
The 27 alumnae are living scientists or engineers; each was interviewed for the book by either Dubelier, SWE co-president Catherine Gurecky ’20 or SWE Member Abigail Macaluso ’20. David Ross Jansen ’22, a performing and media arts student in the College of Arts and Sciences, illustrated portraits of each.
The co-authors selected their subjects first by reaching out to the Cornell alumni community – not just within the College of Engineering, but to a broad range of groups, from the President’s Council of Cornell Women and the Cornell Alumni Association to faculty members, to ask for recommended names.
“By the end of December, we had almost 60 nominations ,” Gurecky said. “We were able to narrow it down [and ended up interviewing] nearly 30 women whose accomplishments and stories we were inspired by, and we knew that they could also inspire the K-12 generation.”
About half the featured alumnae have Cornell Engineering degrees; others have degrees from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the ILR School, the College of Arts and Sciences and other colleges and schools.
The alumnae are diverse across fields, experiences and age groups, Macaluso said. Some are just a few years out of Cornell. Quite a few older alumnae attended Cornell when they were among the very few women – or the only ones – in their majors and schools.
“It was really cool to talk to them, to take what we learned from them and digest each story into a really nice biography,” Macaluso said.
“The book covers everything from a fashion designer and a meteorologist all the way to more traditional engineers,” Gurecky said. “Out of 27 women, I had only heard of one of their stories before, so it was interesting to see the wide range of impact Cornell alumni are having.”
Dubelier said one of the book subjects who inspired her most was Jaclyn Spear ’75, one of the co-founders of the Cornell SWE chapter. “She came from a long line of Cornell engineers,” Dubelier said. “Her mom was an engineer, which back then was virtually unheard of. So you really can see this whole idea of role models through her story because she, at such a young age, had a firsthand example of a woman who was an engineer.”
Macaluso said she was inspired by interviewing both Joanna Dai ’08, an electrical engineering graduate who worked in finance before founding her own performance womenswear brand based in London, and Carole Rapp Thompson ’56, an ILR graduate who became the second computer programmer in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rapp Thompson later rose up the ranks at the United Nations, developing mainframe computer technology and telecommunications systems.
“In the course of my career, especially in the early years, I was usually the only woman in the room,” Thompson says in the book. “This experience led me to mentor the younger women who worked with and under me.”
“So much has changed, and we can’t even really imagine being the only woman in a room in general,” Macaluso said. “But a lot of the people who graduated not so long ago in the scheme of things were actually the ones who have led the way for us.”
“Wall of Wonder” aims to not only bring together and celebrate the diverse Cornell community – it is also meant to be accessible to kids, with whom SWE members work with regularly in the Ithaca community, through programs like SWENext, which helps schools form their own clubs and participate in STEM-focused afterschool activities. SWE also works with local Girl Scout troops, who visit campus for daylong workshops. Annually, Cornell SWE reaches nearly 900 K-12 students and their families through STEM outreach with over 200 hours of community involvement.
For more information and to sign up for updates, visit the book’s page. Dubelier said additional interactive content, such as coloring pages and a book scavenger hunt, is being developed for the site.