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Why don’t more women pursue careers in engineering? What can we do to change the perception of engineering as a male profession? These were among the questions addressed in an online panel discussion hosted by the UAB chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Panelists for the event included UAB alumnae Jeanne Otts and Viola L. Acoff, Ph.D., as well as current biomedical engineering faculty member Mary Kathryn Sewell-Loftin, Ph.D.

Otts and Acoff are founding members of the Imogene Baswell Society, a group that raised money to endow a scholarship to the School of Engineering’s first female graduate.

Click above to view the entire meeting or read on to see a few highlights.


  • Even in engineering fields such as BME, where female representation is stronger than others, there is a noticeable decline as women move through the educational system. “I noticed through my own experience in biomedical engineering that even when undergraduate representation was strong, there were fewer women in master’s and Ph.D. programs, and fewer still on faculty,” said Sewell-Loftin.
  • In answer to a question about why diversity in general and female representation in particular are important, Jeanne Otts responded, “Men and women just deal with problems in different ways. Neither way is better than the other, but when they combine their views and approach problems together, they come up with amazing solutions.”
  • In recent years, many STEM fields have been transformed from male-dominated fields to now more than 50 percent female. Acoff shared one interesting theory of why engineering has not experienced a similar trend. “Studies have shown that young women are drawn to fields where they are able to actively help others. Biomedical engineering and chemical engineering have higher percentages of women because there is a more obvious connection to how those disciplines help society. We need to do a better job of branding other engineering fields as ones that help people and help society. The fact that we’re using this technology to hold this event is an example of what engineers have made possible.”
  • In addition to the panelists, longtime UAB faculty member Jack Lemons, Ph.D., was in attendance, and he shared his experience as a former teacher and colleague of Baswell, who the society and the event were named after. Lemons taught Baswell when she was an undergraduate in the late 60s. He was also on the committee that reviewed her master's thesis in 1976, and later worked with her Dr. Baswell was a very special, very capable person," Lemons said. "She was absolutely outstanding in one-on-one meetings with students. Often students would leave my office and go down the hall to her office to go over what we talked about, because she was so good at explaining things in a way that students could understand."