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Three Cheers for the Engineers

By Jan McCoy Ebbets

      Ain't No Mountain High Enough: Cloelle Sausville-Giddings >

      The Engineer That Could: Christine Johnson >

      It's a Small, Small World: Fatima Toor >

      Dances With Engineers: An Chi (Danielle) Tsou >

      Photo Feature: Smith Graduates First Class of Engineers >

They're bright, energetic and ambitious, and they want to shape the future. They've been watched, photographed and interviewed myriad times since they arrived four years ago.

Rock stars? No, at least not yet. Think engineering stars.

And May 16 will be their day to shine. They are the 20 young women who compose the first class to graduate from Smith's Picker Engineering Program and earn the first bachelor's degrees in engineering science ever offered at any of the nation's women's colleges.

Smith College's first class of engineers. Front row: Susan Strom, Becky Silverstein, Julia Packer, An Chi Tsou. Second row: Kamalea Cott, Meghan Flanagan, Christine Johnson, Cloelle Sausville-Giddings, Sarah Culver, Aruna Sarma Chavali, Kerri Rossmeier, Meghan Taugher, Tsuimei Chang. Third row: Fatima Toor, Elizabeth Bartell, Nicole Radford, Cara Stepp, Caitlyn Shea, Kari Caesar, Sarah Jaffray. Photo by Edward Judice.

In fall 2000, Smith welcomed this entering class. More than 100 students had applied for 25 spots in a program that promised to blaze a trail in educating women engineers in a way few schools can.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 1999: "The program at Smith will be a breakthrough in U.S. higher education, where five out of six engineering students are male, as are 96 percent of engineering faculty. We are confident Smith engineers will be paragons when they begin to graduate in 2004."

By fall 2003, the Picker program had grown to 135 majors and intended majors.
The engineering program offers enormous opportunity for its majors; it focuses on developing broadly educated, well-rounded engineers capable of assuming leadership roles in corporations, nonprofit organizations and technology-related fields. By combining engineering education with the liberal arts, it also aims to produce a new kind of professional engineer, one who is capable of exceptional creativity and has a desire to promote environmental sustainability and a humanistic understanding of social responsibility.

"The Picker Program hopes to establish itself as an intellectual crossroads of the arts, humanities, mathematics and the natural and social sciences," says Domenico Grasso, Rosemary Bradford Hewlett '40 Professor and director of the Picker Program. "The program has exceeded expectations," he continues. "Through an aggressive search, we were fortunate to attract a dedicated faculty that is among the best in the country. We have one of the highest percentages of women faculty (more than 50 percent) of any engineering program in the country."

Most students are at ease with their high-profile roles as members of the first class of engineering majors to graduate from Smith. They know they have been closely watched. "The program's success depends on us, to some extent," Susan Strom '04 observes.

Most engineering students will also concede that it's not been an easy ride. They've spent hours every day trying to keep up with rigorous coursework, lab assignments, problem sets, research projects and design challenges.

But it has paid off. Many graduating seniors have already been accepted into such prestigious graduate programs as Cornell, Princeton, Berkeley, Dartmouth and Notre Dame. Several have jobs waiting for them in fields ranging from information systems to finance to construction management. Two seniors, An Chi Tsou and Cloelle Sausville-Giddings, received the prestigious and highly competitive National Science Foundation fellowships for graduate study in engineering anywhere in the United States. "Smith has always encouraged women to make their mark in everything that they do," observes Tsou.

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