In her sophomore year at the University of Maryland, Alice Squires carried out a difficult project in her electronics class. It convinced her of both her problem-solving abilities and her passion for engineering.
Assigned to design and build a working electronic circuit top power in a particular sequence of LEDs, she had to use parts from a special, well-worn kit previously used by other students. Squires was not too surprised when her demonstration–in front of the class professor–failed. Remaining calm, she lifted up the board, inspected her work, and discovered a fragile, loose wire. After she reconnected it, the LEDs lit up perfectly.
“Having my design fail, and then being able it fix it in real time, greatly boosted my confidence in my design abilities,” she reflects. “I was both relieved and convinced–more than ever–that I had found my calling.”
With a career that includes 25 years as an engineer or technical manager for IBM and Lockheed Martin, among other companies, this IEEE Senior Member is now an associate professor in Engineering and Technology Management at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Her story, Dandelion Wishes: A World Where We Collaborate as Equals, is the newest volume in the award-winning IEEE-USA Women in Engineering (WIE) e-book series.
Except for the first volume, which is an overview of STEM occupations, each e-book is the personally written account of how a notable woman technologist became interested in technology, obtained her education, and developed a successful and satisfying career. This year marks the sixth year of the landmark e-book series, which has been praised by educators and women’s organizations and honored with numerous publishing industry awards.
Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA’s Publishing Manager and Manager & Editor, IEEE-USA E-BOOKS, says that the group offers a diverse cross-section of backgrounds, and each author has a distinctive story to tell.
The title of Squires’ e-book, Dandelion Wishes, reflects the author’s childhood memory of blowing dandelion seeds and pretending they were wishes to be scattered throughout the world.
“The desire to make a difference in the world follows us wherever we are,” she writes. The three goals of her new e-book: To inspire young women and men to pursue their passion-whether in engineering, science, technology, or mathematics; to provide a glimpse into the life of a woman in engineering; and to raise awareness of women’s experiences in engineering toward a shared vision of gender parity.
Alice Squires believes her engineering career actually began at age 8, in a toy store. She had chosen a box of experimental chemistry to play with that summer, and despite her tender age, her parents gave her the freedom to choose her own toys. “I only realized when I was older how much our parents supported our younger generation’s values, despite how different they were from theirs,” she observes. “Growing up, that made all the difference for me.”
As the title of her e-book suggests, the author writes vividly about her life’s experiences, when others mistakenly perceived that her gender placed limits on her technical interests and abilities.
In a chapter titled “I Belong Here,” Squires recalls the instructor in her high-school mechanical drawing class telling her, on the first day, “You are going to fail this class.” The only girl in the room, she had chosen the elective course because it interested her and she did not want to enroll in the other option–home economics. Squires persisted, however, paying attention in class and working on her drawings. In time, the teacher asked her to help other students, and show her work to them.
Another instance of gender stereotyping occurred when the author attended the first customer meeting of her career. Now an analyst working on a tactical trainer, she was present to answer technical questions about the program and its operation. So, when a customer at the meeting asked her to make him a cup of coffee, she froze. “I went from being totally prepared to completely unprepared,” she writes. “I didn’t know where the coffee was, and I definitely didn’t know anything about making coffee…Was this what it was like for a professional woman in the working world?”
Squires says she is still grateful to the male executive from her company, who quickly got the customer his coffee.
In an intriguing chapter near the end of the e-book, she examines what it’s like for women in leadership positions today; and what both genders must do to raise awareness of the need to change workplace cultures and practices. She points to such key initiatives as leading by example, mentoring, and being an ally for those in unequitable situations. “Acquiescence,” she observes, “moves the problem to the next generation.”
Dandelion Wishes: A World Where We Collaborate as Equals, by Alice F. Squires is available at https://ieeeusa.org/product/women-in-engineering-book-21-dandelion-wishes/ at the IEEE member price of $7.99. Non-members can purchase the volume for $9.99 each.
All previous e-books in the WIE series are also available at https://ieeeusa.org/shop and are also priced at $7.99 for IEEE members and $9.99 for non-members.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.