Thanks to an inspirational teacher, Shelly Born realized in eighth grade how much she enjoys mathematics. However, it wasn’t until she was a high-school senior, that she saw how her passion for math could lead to a career in engineering.
During a dinner-table conversation with family friends about what she would study in college, one of them commented that Born’s interest in math, science and problem solving were a natural fit with engineering.
“They had engineers in their family, but I had never known one,” she says. “In fact, I wasn’t exactly sure what an engineer did. However, it sounded like the most challenging degree I could set my sights on.”
The story of how this IEEE Senior Member attained her engineering degree, developed a rewarding career, and achieved both professional and personal fulfillment, is the subject of the 24th and final volume in the award-winning IEEE-USA Women in Engineering (WIE) e-book series. IEEE-USA Publishing is introducing New Experiences, Born’s autobiography, in the IEEE-USA Shop, free to all IEEE members. Non-members pay $9.99.
Except for the first volume in the series, which is an overview of STEM occupations, each of the e-books 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. Educators and women’s organizations have praised the landmark series; numerous publishing industry competitions have honored it with awards.
“Like the other authors in this series, Shelly Born is an exceptional role model for girls and women interested in a career in technology,” says Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA Publishing Manager, and Manager and Editor, IEEE-USA E-BOOKS. “Each author has a unique story to tell; they represent a diverse cross-section of backgrounds.”
With a near 30-year career in the power industry, Born is a senior engineer with Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest electric utility. She is on the company’s Interconnection and Power Quality Engineering team. It works to ensure the safe, reliable interconnection of distributed generation projects to the APS electric grid, including micro-grids, solar, wind, back-up generators, and energy storage systems.
In her e-book, Born recalls growing up on her parents’ farm in Indiana, as well as memories of her eighth-grade math teacher, whom she credits with introducing her to “new ways to view math and attack problems.” A few years later, when a college recruiter came to the door of her high-school geometry class, to speak with a boy who was a potential engineering major, Born was offended that the teacher never considered her, or any of the other girls who were good at math.
As a freshman at the University of Evansville (UE), she found herself increasingly enthusiastic about the engineering curriculum, which included a semester of study at Harlaxton College, near London. Born writes that although she needed to take one extra math class to make up for one she had missed in high school, she ended up taking more mathematics than what was required – and, eventually, earned herself a minor in math.
In the chapter titled, “The Toughest Test,” Born relates with honesty and candor her experience of being pregnant – and single – during her sophomore year. She credits her deep faith with enabling her to stay in school, support herself, and be a caring single mother, while also maintaining her studies.
“Those years were hard,” she writes. “I was so exhausted, but it was all worth it. It was so very worth all the tears, the lack of sleep, dirty diapers, the lack of nice things, the struggle, and missing out on the fun of being young. I would do it over in a heartbeat.”
Upon graduating, Born had to face new challenges, as she interviewed for positions and learned valuable lessons about the working world. On one interview for a plant-floor position, the company’s owner insisted she would be happier with an office job – and proceeded to grill her about her ability to handle both work and family.
“I am still amused when men tell me what I am thinking; what I want or don’t want; or what I am, or am not, capable of,” she writes. “It does no good arguing with them. However, they rarely come close to being correct, and I obviously do not fit in their narrow world. That is a clear signal for me to move on.”
At a company where she and another junior colleague served as temporary project managers for over a year (with no additional compensation), their employers rebuffed a request to correct the situation, and moved them back into engineering. “The disparity between the salary of an entry-level engineer, and that of a project manager, was too great a chasm for management to cross,” writes Born. “We received pats on the back, plus a $500 bonus.”
Other chapters in this volume illustrate key qualities that the author believes are vital for professional success. For example, in “Always Engage,” she relates her experiences as an energy substation controls engineer – in this instance, her painstaking processes to ensure that drawings for proposed new substations were correct. While visiting one construction site, one crewmember told her, “We knew this was going to be a good job, when we saw your signature on the drawings.”
She observes, “People value your engagement with them, and they appreciate it when you value their input,” adding that “a better product is created when you listen to those affected and adjust accordingly.”
“Dream big,” advises Shelly Born in New Experiences. “Do not hesitate to aim high, or take a chance on something difficult or unknown.” Born’s life is proof positive of her own words. Her e-book is also a fitting finale to this inspiring e-book series.
Previous volumes in the WIE series are also available at https://ieeeusa.org/shop/ and are free to members and $9.99 for non-members.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.