Starting Point

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.”
—Marie Curie

Thirty years before WPI went coed, a young woman in New York City aspired to be a doctor. She was interested in helping others, and, more important, she excelled in math and science. But there was just one problem.

“Nice Jewish girls don’t become doctors,” her father, a Polish immigrant, decreed.

Though she was accepted to medical school, the young woman wouldn’t disobey her father. Thus, she enrolled in a nursing program and enjoyed a long, successful career as an RN, later earning a master’s degree in chemistry.

My family always said that this woman—my grandmother, my Bubbe— was ahead of her time. In high school, when women’s sports were far less common than they are today, Bubbe not only played sports, but she earned a sweater. Women rarely “sweatered” in the 1930s since, at least in her high school, girls were required to letter in three sports to earn the sweater. (Incidentally, boys needed only one sport.)

My generation has been lucky in that, on the whole, we haven’t encountered the kind of gender discrimination our mothers and grandmothers faced. As Terese Kwiatkowski ’83 explains (see story, page 25), “I’m sure it was easier for me to overcome gender issues because of the women who preceded me, and that it’s easier for those who’ve joined the profession after me.”

Just as I look to my grandmother as a source of inspiration, I imagine that she, too, would be inspired by the very women who comprise this issue of Transformations, which celebrates 40 years of coeducation at our university.

In honor of this anniversary, we’ve included just a sampling of stories of the inspiring and impressive work of our alumnae. We talk with Lesley (Small) Zorabedian ’72, one of the first women to step foot on campus as an undergraduate student, and others about the early years of coeducation here.

We tell the stories of alumnae in various stages of their careers— Kwiatkowski, Judy Nitsch ’75, and Anni Autio ’82 discuss their successful careers in civil engineering, a field still dominated by men. Lisette Manrique ’03 (MS’05) and Shruti Pai ’04 (MS’05) are poised to make a difference in the biomedical engineering field. And we talk with women students and faculty about the important research and activities happening on campus today.

True, the alumnae in this issue of the magazine are singled out because they’re women. But—and this cannot be understated—we acknowledge and celebrate their successes and accomplishments regardless of their gender.

I like to imagine that, if my Bubbe could have met them, she would have been blown away by the impressive careers these alumnae have had, or are just beginning. I picture her listening intently to their stories, and conveying the simple words of wisdom that she often had for my sister and me: “Enjoy,” she would say, no matter the occasion. “Just enjoy.”

With that, I hope you, too, enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

Charna Westervelt, Editor

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