Sheila Widnall, First female Secretary of the Air Force and first woman to lead a U.S. military branch. Dr. Widnall is an aerospace researcher and Institute Professor at MIT.
"It didn't feel like a welcoming place for women, and I made a kind of conscious decision that I would worry about that later. I was going to get my degree, and then I would think about whether women were welcome in engineering.”
Dr. Widnall graduated from MIT with several degrees in Aeronautics: an S.B. in 1960, an S.M. the following year, and an Sc.D. in 1964. As a faculty member at MIT, she was appointed Chair of the Faculty and also served for two years as MIT’s Associate Provost.
"I was a tinkerer. Well, this is a common pattern among women in engineering. I was the oldest child in a family without boys. So I was the boy. I was my father's right hand man. We painted, we did electrical work, we did plumbing. He was very handy. I was 21 years old before I found out that you could hire people to come into your house and do things. He did everything. Of course, our greatest contribution was when we painted the front porch the day my mother was having a dinner party,and everybody had to go in the back door. She was not very happy about that. But we were constantly doing things, and so I have a lot of hands-on experience about building things. And you know, it's not that you can’t become an engineer without that, but if you also have that in addition to all the other skills, it really makes putting things together a lot easier.”
MIT and edited for clarity, Photograph via UNT