Those who prepared the way
Women engineers share insights with new generation
generations, young men engineers have donned the black and
orange to rove the campus with their fathers and grandfathers,
similarly garbed in tiger stripes and telling tales from
the days of slide rules and planimeters.
Yet quite soon, and for the first
time, a young woman student of the School of Engineering
and Applied Science (SEAS) will roam the campus, listening
to old Princeton stories told by her mother. Julia Philip ’06, a chemical engineering
student, is the daughter of Marian Ott, a basic engineering
alumna from the class of 1976.
In May 2006, Ms. Ott will become the first SEAS alumna who
is the mother of a SEAS alumna. She is, therefore, in a unique
position to see how engineering has changed for women in
the past 30 years.
“When I was at Princeton, we formed the first Princeton
chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE),” Ms.
Ott said. “Back then, the idea of a woman having a
career was fairly radical. You had to almost deny any interest
in family in order to be taken seriously.
“Now my daughter’s involved in SWE, and the
focus of their meetings tends to be ‘how do you balance
your career and your family?’ It’s an amazing
The history of women at SEAS is a rather brief one. Engineering
has ever been, and continues to be, a field with a high man-to-woman
ratio, and it has not yet been 50 years since women engineers
first made an appearance at Princeton.
Princeton began admitting women
as graduate students in the 1960s. In 1970, Patayona Papantoni, an electrical
engineering student, became the first woman to earn a master’s
degree of science in engineering from Princeton.
Strong numbers of women in the graduate student population
did not appear until the late 1970s, but since then they
have remained consistent.
Women were officially admitted as undergraduates in 1969,
but when commencement for those first Lady Tigers came around
in 1973, only one was an engineer.
Robert Jahn, professor emeritus
of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was dean of SEAS
at the time this sole woman undergraduate sat before Nassau
Hall in her black cap and gown.
One of the great initiatives of his term was to improve
the caliber of SEAS applicants, both male and female alike.
During this period of growth, women went from being around
1 percent of the undergraduate population to over 20 percent.
While the younger generations of women were quickly bolstering
the numbers of undergraduate and graduate women at SEAS in
the 1970s, the pursuit of quality female faculty was a longer
In 1968 Princeton appointed its
first female full professor—Suzanne
Keller of sociology. Yet it took almost 30 more years for
a woman to reach the rank of full professor in the SEAS.
That distinction goes to Andrea LaPaugh, professor of
computer science, who became a member of the Princeton faculty
in 1981, earned tenure in 1987, and was promoted to professor
The SEAS is now home to 16 women
faculty members, nine of whom are tenured. About 30 percent
of the undergraduate student body is female. In the incoming
class of ’08, 40 percent
are women. Women account for 26 percent of the graduate student
These stories will profile some of the distinguished, intriguing
women who have passed through the Engineering Quad: women
who have shaped their fields and the SEAS culture.
Josette Bellan *73 *74 S*76 P’06
Mechanical and Aerospace
Josette (Rosentweig) Bellan arrived on the Princeton
campus in 1969 as a new graduate student in the Department
of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering she was the epitome
of the stranger in a strange land.
• 1964 under-graduate
degree, University of Sciences, Paris
• 1973 M.A. and 1974
Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
• 1978 Began working at NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
• 1997 Senior research scientist at NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
• 2004 Chair of the
AIAA Propellant and Combustion Technical Committee;
and on the board of directors for the Institute
for Liquid Atomization and Spray Systems, North
and South America
She was a young woman on a campus
where women were a rarity, particularly in the E-Quad.
Compounding that, she was barred by a significant language
barrier, with only a French–English
dictionary as a rather unreliable key to the outside.
Yet these obstacles did not prevent
her from becoming an internationally recognized researcher
in the field of thermodynamics, and Senior Research Scientist
at the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), managed by Caltech.
In 1969, Dr. Bellan and her sister, Larisse, passed exams
that qualified them to begin Ph.D. programs in France. That
spring they visited family in New York, who encouraged them
to give American universities a look.
So, Dr. Bellan picked up her French–English dictionary
and drafted a letter to Princeton that she now admits was
probably a grammatical nightmare. Nonetheless she was invited
to visit campus by Professor Cemal Eringen. The sisters
stumbled through a day visit, struggling to communicate as
best they could.
“Two weeks later Professor Eringen called,” she
said. “Apparently he had offered my sister and I fellowships
that day, but we didn’t understand him!”
The Rosentweigs decided to stay in the United States and
take on the challenge, but unfortunately, by the time they
made their decision, it was past the admissions period.
“The dean of admissions said ‘They haven’t
applied in time, they don’t know English, and we don’t
have a tradition of admitting women,’” she said.
After some wheeling and dealing, it was decided that the
sisters Rosentweig would work as assistants for the first
semester, and would be allowed to take the TOFOL exam in
January and be admitted as graduate students.
They initially worked with Professor Eringen in computer
mechanics, but later opted to switch fields. Dr. Bellan worked
on fluid mechanics and combustion with Professor Bill Sirignano.
“I had an excellent experience working with him,” she
In addition to finding a field of study and an adviser,
she found love with graduate student Paul Bellan *76, now
a professor of applied physics at Caltech. They have three
sons, Norbert, Leon, and Steven. Steven is a sophomore at
“I really loved Princeton,” she said. “There
was a wonderful spirit in the department at that time. There
were many foreign students as well as American students,
too. I met a considerable number of people and I started
noticing English–French dictionaries on a lot of people’s
The fact that there were only a
handful of women in the school didn’t bother her.
“Many of the male students became and remain my friends,” she
said. “Some of them found me a car and maintained it
for me. They even found me a summer home.”
Dr. Bellan can look back on a prestigious
career. Her current research focuses on multiphase flows—flows
of two or more thermodynamic phases moving together, but
not necessarily at the same velocity or temperature. They
naturally occur in tornadoes, volcanic plumes, and sand
dunes, and are also found in many manufacturing processes.
Her most significant discoveries include finding that:
• turbulence in two-phase flows
and one-phase flows are governed by different phenomena;
• turbulence in high pressure
flows and single-phase atmospheric flows are governed by
different phenomena, and;
• in evaporating sprays, the
specifics of drop-fuel composition can affect the features
of local turbulence.
“I think that in order to do research you need to
be very persevering,” she said. “It’s like
having a frontier between the known and the unknown, and
you’re trying to push the frontier closer to the unknown
side and enlarge the known. That’s what you’re
doing every day. You’re continuously learning things
and developing your ideas. In fact, I’m always most
excited and most proud of the things that I’m doing
right now. Always looking forward. That’s the goal.”
Dr. Bellan and her family established the Larisse Rosentweig
Klein Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Graduate
Research in memory of her sister Larisse Rosentweig, who
Marian Ott ’76 S’75 P’06, Basic Engineering
has long fostered a spirit of public service and encouraged
its students to adopt that spirit.
• 1976 B.S.E. in Basic
• 1978 Transit analyst,
Transportation System Center, U.S. Dept. of Transportation,
• 1980 Senior engineer,
New Jersey Department of Transportation
• 1982 Assistant general
manager, Metropolitan Transportation Authority,
• 1988 Budget consultant
Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Authority, Oakland,
• 1989 Senior consulting engineer at JHK & Assoc.,
San Francisco, Calif.
• 1991 Executive director,
Nashville Regional Transportation Authority
• 2004 Fulltime volunteer
for many civic organizations
Marian Ott is the quintessential
representative of the success of this initiative. After
a successful career in the transportation industry, she
now is a full-time public servant, committing 40 to 50
hours each week to a long list of civic organizations.
“Public service has always been important and of interest
to me,” Ms. Ott said, “but certainly when you’re
at a place like Princeton, the culture validates it.”
Truly the Princeton culture has
seeped into Ms. Ott’s
blood. One of her many volunteer duties is serving as president
of the Princeton Club of Middle Tennessee. She also admits
to decorating her Christmas tree entirely with tiger ornaments.
She is married to civil engineering
graduate Craig Philip ’75.
Mr. Philip and Ms. Ott have two daughters, Jennifer and Julia.
Julia is currently a SEAS sophomore in chemical engineering.
Alain Kornhauser *71, professor of operations research
and financial engineering was Ms. Ott’s thesis adviser,
and also a member of the Ott–Philip wedding party.
Despite an apprehensive attitude toward women in engineering
during the 70s, Ms. Ott made a splash in the field of transportation
She made the biggest impacts in Tennessee, working early
in her career for the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority,
and later acting as the first executive director for the
Nashville Regional Transportation Authority. This agency
was created with the ambitious mission of developing a nine-county
During this time, she was appointed
to the Tennessee General Assembly’s Legislative Special
Study Committee researching the funding needs of transit
Since she left the Regional Transportation
the working world—in 1998, Ms. Ott has devoted herself
entirely to volunteer work. Yet, much of this is still committed
to issues of transportation. She is chair of the Metropolitan
Transit Authority Board, and vice chair of Cumberland Region
Tomorrow, an organization that is trying to reduce suburban
sprawl in the region.
She is also involved in other civic matters. She has been
a member of the League of Women Voters for more than 20 years,
serving as president of the Nashville chapter from 2000 to
2002. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recently appointed
Ms. Ott to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, an
independent state government agency that enforces laws regarding
campaign finance, lobbyist registration and disclosure, and
conflict of interest disclosure.
“I have always been interested in public policy issues,” she
said. “I ended up in engineering because of something
called an urban engineering program. I thought that it sounded
like a combination of my two favorite subjects: math and
the history of politics.”
Finally, Ms. Ott also carves out time in her schedule to
volunteer as a tutor for the Nashville Adult Literacy Council.
“That’s probably my favorite,” she said. “When
I stopped working full-time, I wanted to do activities that
would keep my name alive professionally, but also develop
new skills and get involved in things that would give me
direct interaction with people I otherwise wouldn’t
One cannot help but wonder what sort of clock Ms. Ott uses
to find the time to do all these activities.
“The hard part is that I don’t have an office,” she
said. “I’m really thankful for technology. The
cell phone. The palm pilot. They help me stay organized and
Another helpful tool is Ms. Ott’s
Princeton engineering education.
“In public policy it’s good to be methodical
and have a framework to use,” she said. “I developed
my skills in problem-solving during my engineering education.”
Ms. Ott said that being the only woman in the civil engineering
department at the time did not have any adverse effects on
“It wasn’t that different for me because I have
six younger brothers,” she said. “Being in all-male
company was not a problem for me.”
She was chapter president of the
American Society of Civil Engineers her senior year, and,
along with the other officers, was “roasted” at
an end-of-the-year celebration.
“They gave joke presents to us all,” she said. “They
presented my gift by saying ‘These tools will prepare
Marian for a career in engineering as a woman.’ Then
they gave me a steno pad and a dustpan.”
Ms. Ott took the tongue-in-cheek gift happily.
Linda Abriola *79 *83, Civil Engineering
Linda Abriola was a graduate student, there were no female
engineer role models for herself and the two women graduate
students she shared an office with.
• 1976 graduated Drexel
University with highest honors
• 1979 M.S. in civil
• 1980 M.A. in civil
• 1983 Ph.D. in civil
• 1984 Joined faculty
at the University of Michigan
• 1996 Director of
Environmental and Water Resources Engineering Program
• 2003 Elected to the
National Academy of Engineering
• 2003 Dean of Engineering
at Tufts University
However, throughout her career in academia, and now as Dean
of Engineering at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., she
is a mentor for female engineers of the next generation.
Dean Abriola has made an indelible mark on the field of
environmental engineering, focusing her research on remediation
of contaminated soils and waters. She has studied nonaqueous
organic liquid contaminants to better understand their entrapment,
mass transfer, and biodegradation.
Because conventional remediation
methods have been deemed relatively ineffective as well
as costly, she’s studied
the use of surfactants—surface-acting substances, like
detergents—as a way to enhance the removal of contaminants
She also researches intrinsic bioremediation, which puts
to use the contaminant-degrading capabilities of indigenous
microbes instead of using engineered substances. She and
her team developed and applied a numerical bioremediation
Dean Abriola was elected to the
National Academy of Engineering for her leadership in the
field of groundwater contamination and remediation. Yet
during her graduate education, she was never sure she’d
have such success.
“ One of the issues I had as a woman,” she said, “is
that I didn’t know how the game was played. It took
me much longer than the men to pick up the rules of academic
Dean Abriola explained that all Ph.D. programs are
intense and isolating, but even more so for the female students
in a building where the nearest ladies’ restroom is
a long hike away.
“We took it upon ourselves to put a sign on the men’s
room that we could flip over to read ‘Ladies,’” she
said. “The janitors didn’t like that, though.”
Convenient restrooms were an annoyance,
but more troubling were the perceived limitations on women’s
professional and personal lives.
“Around that time, in the early 80s, the school brought
in a woman professor to give a seminar,” Dean Abriola
said. “I remember a lot of these women professors standing
up and saying ‘You cannot have children and get tenure.’ I
got up and walked out. That was not something I wanted to
hear at the time.”
Although Dean Abriola herself is divorced and never had
children, she feels strongly about providing an environment
that allows room for both family and scholarship.
“Even though it hasn’t happened in my life and
I don’t have a family, I would never want to be forced
to make that choice,” she said. “A career is
part of a life, not a whole life.”
Dean Abriola says that this is still a more significant
issue in academia than in industry. Tufts now has a “tenure
clock-stoppage” policy that allows junior faculty the
opportunity to postpone the tenure process until after their
A career in academia has shown Dean Abriola that being
a woman in the sciences brings with it some unexpected responsibilities.
When she began her career at Michigan she was pursued by
many groups that wanted her “female perspective.”
“I was thrust immediately into a lot of committee
work and mentoring,” she said. “I never said
no, so I was doing far too much. I advise young women now
to learn how to say ‘No.’”
As dean, however, she does not want to help just female
students, but all students. She aims to do this by fostering
more collaborative research and providing a more interdisciplinary
education across the board.
“I’ve worked my whole life on environmental
pollution, which relies on public policy,” she said. “But
engineers have never had the voice in public policy because
they’ve not been taught to communicate that way. Unfortunately,
because of this a lot of decisions are not made on sound
science. I’d love to create an education for engineers
that empowers them to become involved in policy-making.”
Her own career has placed her in the thick of policy-making.
Dean Abriola’s exceptional
career as an engineer is even more intriguing because it
almost never occurred.
“At one time I wanted to be a classical violinist,” she
said. “I got the engineering degree to fall back on.”
As a student, she played violin in the Princeton Chamber
Orchestra and in the Trenton Symphony, and continues to play
“I found a professor here [at Tufts] who plays piano,
and so we’ve played together,” she said. “It
keeps me sane.”
Alice Gast *84, Chemical Engineering
Gast has received a long list of awards from a variety of
prestigious organizations. She has made astounding discoveries
by working at the frontier of physical and chemical processes,
hopscotching surely throughout the fields of chemistry, physics,
• 1980 Valedictorian
at University of Southern California
• 1984 Ph.D. in civil
• 1985 joined the faculty
• 1992 received the
Allan P. Colburn Award for Excellence in Publications
by a Young Member of the American Institute of
• 2001 elected to the
National Academy of Engineering
• 2001 joined MIT as
associate provost, vice president for research,
and professor of chemical engineering
She spent most of her career on the faculty at Stanford
University, and is now associate provost, vice president
for research, and professor of chemical engineering at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
In 2001 she received the highest recognition of her forebears
and peers by being inducted into the National Academy of
Yet she still says that the most exciting part of her career
was when she was a graduate student at Princeton University.
“Your first-year experience in graduate school is
very competitive, challenging, and stressful, but once you
dig into your research it’s the best of times,” she
said. “Being a Ph.D. student is the greatest opportunity
for exploration and learning. It’s just really exciting.”
Professor Gast worked with Chemical
Engineering Professor William Russel (now the dean of the
Graduate School), and Carol Hall, one of the very
first female faculty members at the SEAS.
“I had a wonderful experience,” Professor Gast
said. “They were just the right balance of guidance
and advice. I learned a tremendous amount about mentoring
graduate students from them.”
By the time Professor Gast earned her Ph.D., the ranks of
women at the SEAS, while still distinctly fewer than the
men, had grown to about a fifth of the student body. She
says that she did not feel a gender divide.
“Chemical engineering, at the time was a very collegial
department,” she said. “There was a lot of camaraderie
amongst the students and the faculty, and I found the faculty
to be very receptive and welcoming to women. Having Carol
Hall on the faculty may have also been welcoming to the female
After leaving Princeton, Professor Gast spent 16 years at
Stanford, and is still advising four Stanford students through
their Ph.D. programs. She said her years there were very
rewarding, and she learned a great deal from a small, collegial
“I came here [to MIT] for the challenge and the opportunity
to work in administration,” she said. “The main
goals are to foster interdisciplinary work and improve the
research environment for those sorts of collaborations.”
She’s currently involved in
the design of a new research center for the Bio-X project,
a human health research initiative combining the work of
scientists, engineers, and medical doctors.
Professor Gast said the new building will be more open than
compartmentalized, thus encouraging a more collegial and
“Breaking down the walls will be scary for some who’ve
been in the profession for a long time,” she said. “It’s
challenging to change one’s culture but this will be
a change for the better.”
Her current research project focuses on complex and supermolecular
fluids. Her group recently completed experiments at a National
Aeronautics and Space Administration space station, using
a zero-gravity environment to study how colloids change structure
in the magnetic field.
She explained that the way colloids in suspension change
from a syrupy fluid to a gel-like solid in the magnetic field
could have applications in the mechanics of brakes and clutches.
Still, despite her high marks in research and administration,
there is another part of her career that Professor Gast is
“If you ask me what is my biggest achievement, I think
I’d have to say the 27 Ph.D. students I’ve had,” she
said. “They’re my proudest accomplishment. Yes,
I love working in my lab. We do exciting and interesting
science, but my primary job is graduate education and training
When she’s got time to beg
off her considerable duties on campus, she enjoys outdoorsy
activities like cross-country skiing, hiking, and bicycling.
“I’ve also been very fortunate to have had some
wonderful experiences on sabbatical in France and Germany,” she
In addition, she schedules plenty of playtime with her family.
She and her husband, Bradley have a seven- and a nine-year-old.
“They’re a lot of fun,” she said. “We’re
having a good time. It’s just so fun to learn with
Jocelyn Kaiser ’88 , Chemical Engineering
in the E-Quad often keep weary undergraduates inspired by
reminding them they’ll
be able to do anything they want with an engineering degree
• 1988 B.S.E. in chemical
• 1988 Associate staff,
Polymer Composites Program GE Corp. Research and
• 1992 Associate instructor,
• 1994 Intern, Science magazine,
• 1995 Writer, Science magazine
Jocelyn Kaiser must have taken this
message to heart. She used her degree to thrive in the
field of journalism. Ms. Kaiser is a writer for Science magazine,
translating complicated research into terms anyone can
Ms. Kaiser always had interests in a broad variety of topics,
but did not always have time to explore all of them whilst
in the thick of her rigorous Princeton engineering curriculum.
She decided to take a year away from her undergraduate education
to travel through Europe. She worked at odd jobs: an au pair
in France and a waitress in Switzerland.
“I found the time, then, to read the newspaper more,” she
said. “It opened my eyes, and whetted my interest in
However, when she came back to Princeton,
she chose to complete her B.S.E. in chemical engineering.
She worked with Professor Robert Prud’homme to
complete her senior thesis, and after graduation worked
in a polymer composites laboratory for two years.
Yet during this time, she remained intrigued by journalism.
She knew she wanted to continue her education, but which
way to go: journalism school or medical school? Wondering
which direction to go in next, Ms. Kaiser again took to traveling
to gain perspective: this time to Central America.
After almost a year traveling, she decided that medical
school was too big of a commitment to make without knowing
for certain that the siren song of the news would stop beckoning.
Thus she went to Indiana University
to earn a master’s
degree in journalism, and has been satisfied with her choice.
“It’s fun. It’s interesting.
I like the variety,” she said. “I just really
enjoy chasing a story, and at Science I get to write
in-depth stories about research, which I find very fulfilling.”
Ms. Kaiser says that part of the fulfillment comes from
the very challenging, deadline-driven nature of the work.
“One challenge to the job is going beyond the obvious
news and digging up the less obvious stories,” she
said. “Looking beyond the stack of press releases sitting
on my desk.”
When Ms. Kaiser began at the magazine,
she was covering environmental science and policy, but
has since moved on to covering the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), which she describes as the “28 billion
dollar behemoth that funds most biomedical research in
the United States.”
This new beat has brought with it many days in Congressional
hearings, as well as new complications for Ms. Kaiser to
“Getting people to talk to you is another challenge,
and this is especially hard with stories that are political,” she
said. “Covering the NIH means that most of my stories
deal with politics. People don’t want to talk on the
Although Ms. Kaiser is not a practicing engineer, she avers
that her Princeton engineering education has helped her throughout
“Princeton was a very rigorous place
to get an undergraduate degree,” she said. “Going
through it helps you develop the ability to critically think.
In fact, a lot of the ways of thinking I learned in engineering
school are important in journalism too. Sometimes when I’m
doing a story, I tackle it from a lot of different angles
and use the same problem-solving techniques.”
And what of the adventurous spirit
that traipsed through Europe and Central America? Is Ms.
choice satisfying the world-traveler within her?
“Most of the time, I’m tied
to my desk, reporting by phone or covering events in Washington,” she
I’ve also had the chance to take some memorable reporting
She has been on assignment in Cuba to report about new biotechnology
research, in Costa Rica following tropical ecologists studying
the responses of the rainforest to a warming climate, and
even in Antarctica.
She describes that trip as “two
queasy weeks on a British research ship with geologists
studying the glacial history of the Antarctic peninsula.”
Back in D.C., Ms. Kaiser is single and lives in a rowhouse
that is within bicycling distance from her office.
Other Princeton engineers have also made the decision to
explore journalism as a career. Recently, Carrie Lock *03
and Prachi Patel *03 enrolled in journalism school after
earning their M.S.Es.
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