Melinda Piket-May
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado

I have always enjoyed learning new things and especially enjoyed the technical challenges math and science offered in high school. Because of my love of math and science, for my undergraduate work, I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign to study Electrical Engineering (EE). But, I had no idea what EE - or engineering - was about! I was very bored my first year and did not feel I was doing very well in the program (math, chemistry, and physics). At the end of my first year I was told I could not double major in EE and social work, so I decided I would drop out of engineering. However, during the summer I was hired as a co-op to work at Fermi National Accelerator Lab in the Particle Instrumentation Group for the fall semester. I discovered I loved engineering thanks to Charlie Nelson, Lou DalMonte, and Greg Deuerling! They introduced me to real engineering and showed me that it was challenging and fun. I spent five semesters as a co-op student during my (five-year) career at Illinois. I also studied at the University of Lancaster, England, for a semester and then traveled through Europe for a couple of months.

During my last year at University of Illinois, Professor Magin ask me to help redo and teach the biomedical instrumentation lab. I loved the experience and decided to apply to graduate school, although the thought of taking more classes and tests was not too exciting. I had a number of great offers to work in industry, but Allen Taflove, an excellent advisor and engineer at Northwestern University, offered me a fellowship. I got involved in computational electromagnetics but initially worked on hyperthermia cancer treatment research. I later had the opportunity to intern at Cray Research doing research in the area of supercomputing. Evans Harrigan opened doors for me at Cray and Roger Gravrok and many others made the work exciting and rewarding. I finished my Ph.D., something I had never really imagined I could do, in August 1993. I then joined the faculty of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Colorado in Boulder as an assistant professor. I will be considered for tenure and promotion to associate professor in Fall 1999!

My long-term goals are to increase the number of students enrolling in engineering nation wide by reforming engineering education by encouraging undergraduate research opportunities and active collaborative learning opportunities. All of this work includes involving industry in the educational process. My research goals include making academic studies and research more accessible and usable by industry, especially in my area of research (high speed computing and packaging). My extracurricular passion is K-12 outreach. I will continue developing programs to bring technology and engineering into K-12 curriculum for all children.

At the University of Colorado, Susan Avery has been a great research mentor, introducing me to writing proposals to fund my research and educational programs, introducing me to people at places like the National Science Foundation, and showing me how the system works. Jackie Sullivan, Larry Carlson, and especially Jim Avery have been wonderful education mentors. They have encouraged me to follow my passion for education and have offered me many opportunities to develop programs and take risks in a safe environment. I am sure you have noticed I have mentioned a lot of names. I could have included many more! Engineering is a team discipline and I needed support and advice from many people.

The best piece of advice I have for young women contemplating an engineering career is to listen to the people around you and respect their ideas. Find a couple of good mentors and/or role models, it really helps! My other piece of advice is to take control of your environment and believe in yourself. Don't use other people as an excuse for failure; find a way to succeed. Decide what you want to do and make it happen. Keep talking to people until you find a mentor who understands what you are after and can help guide you through the process. I really see this as a key to success!

I very much encourage all young women to consider studying engineering because it opens so many doors. As an EE, I tell my students that they can go do anything with a EE degree. I challenge them to find an area of interest I can't link to EE. As an engineer on an anthropology dig, involved in a sporting event, or working with doctors, you get to be involved in the whole project because you have to understand it all to make effective use of technology. You are a very important member of the team. Society is very dependent on technology, and knowledge of technology gives you more control of your environment. I hope we see more leaders, including politicians, with engineering background!

I am very proud of being a mom. Kaitlin, born on 7-4-95, has attended many meetings and taught many classes with me. I think that by involving her in the university culture she (and I) have been a good role models for other faculty and students. My mother, LouAnn (a teacher and psychologist) and father, Phil (a historian and sociologist) have helped me form a very social view of engineering. I am sure they never imagined that two of their children would end up as engineers! Generally, I talk to my family a lot about engineering and engineering education and find they bring fresh insight into what I am involved in.

I am also very proud of the first year engineering design course I have helped develop. We first started designing, building and packaging projects for people in the community with assistive technology needs. We have since expanded the outreach to include museums, zoo's, and schools. The program was highlighted on NBC national news. First year students at CU really get a hands-on introduction to engineering! This program was developed from my unique experiences and background.

The biggest challenge I have had to overcome is accepting that my approach to engineering is valid. I am not a typical electrical engineer and even I did not see the value in my way of doing things... I always thought I was doing things wrong. But now I recognize I do things differently and often bring unique value to projects. One of my mentors once told me I was a change agent, and people don't always recognize the value of change agents. That is OK with me as long as I know I am making a difference. I challenge people to think in unusual ways and consider alternatives to the traditional solutions. Value your unique experiences.

A book I highly recommend is "Things That Make us Smart" defending human attributes in the age of the machine, by Donald Norman.

Please email me if you have any questions about becoming an engineer. For more traditional information about my work, awards, and publications see my web site: http://maori.colorado.edu/~mjp.

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