Imogene Baswell Society Endows Scholarship to Support Female Engineering Students

baswell small3A 1968 news clipping includes this photo of Imogene Baswell, the first female graduate of the UAB School of Engineering. (Courtesy of UAB Archives)Imogene Baswell was truly a 20th century pioneer.

In the early 1960s, she defied the stereotype by becoming the lone female on the City of Birmingham's police force. And if breaking into one boy's club was not enough, she marched down the aisle in 1969 to become the first female graduate of the newly-created UAB School of Engineering.

As the school gets ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019, a group of UAB alumnae have ensured that Baswell’s name will forever be associated with the School of Engineering by creating "The Imogene Baswell Endowed Scholarship."

The scholarship was established through a gift from the Imogene Baswell Society, a group formed in 2017 by eight alumnae who sought to honor a pioneer in their field while also providing support for the future of the profession.

“This is a deeply meaningful effort, and perhaps overdue,” said Robert Blakely, director of development for the UAB School of Engineering. “We’re thrilled that our friends and alumnae have joined together to make a significant endowed gift that will support women engineers at UAB for generations. We intend to build this endowment in the coming years with the continuing help of our graduates and friends."

A Difficult Road

Baswell’s road to an engineering degree was not an easy one. A 1968 Birmingham News article describes how Baswell spent eight years taking night classes while working full time to earn her undergraduate degree.

Baswell 1969 CommencementThe program from UAB's 1969 commencement ceremony documents Baswell as the school's first female graduate. (Courtesy of UAB Archives)With the degree in hand, her story was far from over. She went on to earn a master’s degree from UAB in 1976 and later a Ph.D. from Clemson University. At the time of her retirement, she was a biomedical metallurgist at Richard’s Medical, and she had obtained three U.S. patents on medical processes.

Baswell died in 1997. 

“I loved the idea of honoring a pioneer in this field, and I am really excited that we can use her legacy to promote women in today’s world and encourage them to pursue engineering careers,” said Jeanne Otts, a recently retired senior engineer from Southern Company, who also volunteers with the UAB chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “So many women work while they’re in school, so I hope this scholarship will help give some of them more freedom to pursue academic goals and to excel in their college experience.”

Envisioning Success

In the decades since Baswell earned her bachelor’s degree, hundreds of women have followed in her footsteps at UAB, including many who are among the School of Engineering’s most successful and visible alumni. In spite of those examples, the percentages of women entering the field remains low and has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades.

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In this 2017 file photo, SOE Dean Iwan Alexander is pictured with some of the founding members at the official launching of the Imogene Baswell Society. They are, from left, Shelia Montgomery-Mills, Viola Acoff, Maggie Weems, Mindy Lalor, Kristie Barton, LaQuisha Buggs, and Jeanne Otts. Click the image above to view a larger version.

“When I was in engineering school, there were no female faculty members, no women engineers that I could look to as role models,” said Tequila Smith, a mechanical engineer who is currently general manager of Solar Operations for Southern Power. With no professional women to emulate, Smith says she was lucky to find support from her peers, particularly from some female upperclassmen. “There was a group of girls who were two years ahead of me. They took some of us under their wing and gave us advice. I think seeing someone being successful ahead of you gives you confidence. That’s why I think it is so important now to support young women who want to be engineers.”

Elisabeth Hyde, president of Hyde Engineering, says she was excited to contribute to a cause that will remove obstacles for women entering the field because she recognizes the difficult road that women faced in the past.

“I didn’t think much about it when I was a student because I always felt like I got so much support from faculty at UAB,” Hyde said. “But whenever I read stories of women from past generations who had successful careers in engineering, I am so appreciative. They weren’t necessarily given the same opportunities we have today. They just did the work because they loved doing it. Without them paving the way, I don’t know that I would be where I am today.”


 If you would like to contribute to the Imogene Baswell Endowed Scholarship, contact SOE Development Director Robert Blakely at rblakely@uab.edu or call (205) 934-8481.