University to host traveling women of engineering exhibit

Two university departments will host a traveling exhibit geared toward female empowerment and inspiration to honor the first women to study engineering.

“Petticoats and Slide Rulers: The Life of Mary Hegeler Carus,” a Mary Hegeler Carus exhibit hosted by Morris Library’s Special Collections Research Center and the College of Engineering, look to showcase how American women have shaped technology and society for more than 100 years, said Pamela Hackbart-Dean, Special Collections Research Center director. Exhibit features include Carus’ life, accomplishments and businesses as well as female engineering over the past century.

“This exhibit is an empowerment seminar so that women can learn about this amazing woman who succeeded against all odds and didn’t let being the only woman in all of her classes discourage her,” Hackbart-Dean said.

Carus was the first female student to ever study and graduate with an engineering degree, which she obtained from the University of Michigan in 1882, Hackbart-Dean said, and later became the president of Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Co. in La Salle from 1903 to 1933.

Carus’ great grandaughter will speak during each exhibit’s premier day to share how her great-grandmother’s accomplishments have influenced her and her family’s lives, Hackbart-Dean said, and she hopes Carus’ life will encourage young women to become involved in engineering.

“We want this to impact the wisdom and courage of women,” she said. “We celebrate the accomplishments of the past and we want that to impact the future.”

The idea for the exhibit came when Hackbart-Dean and Christina Gould, Library Affairs specialist, found information on the engineering pioneer among the library’s philosophy paperwork, Hackbart-Dean said. The information revealed Carus and her husband ran a publishing company from their basement, and they published several philosophy books, which Hackbart-Dean said several university philosophy classes have used.

The two then applied for a Illinois Humanities Council grant last October and learned in December it appropriated $4,025 toward the exhibit, Hackbart-Dean said.

There were 84 female students enrolled in the university’s engineering program as of 2011, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Studies. This number was 924 students fewer than the 1,008 males studying the same field.

Lizette Chevalier, a civil and enviromental engineering professor, said she would like to see the university’s female engineering enrollment numbers rise, but that might take time because many women don’t consider the field as a possible career. Chevaliar said she is excited to use the exhibit as an educational tool for young girls about the affect women have had and will have on society and technology.

“I think it is very important to educate young women on this amazing woman who had such an impact on opening doors for the current oppurtunities women have,”she said.

Kaylyn Shaw, a junior from Riverton studying electrical engineering, said she chose her field because she loves math and wanted a challenge.

“I love that I get to be creative, lay out designs and figure out the math of how the machines will operate in (electrical) engineering,” she said.

Shaw said she is the only female student in half of her engineering classes, but that never discourages her. She said women should consider engineering an option just like any other field, but it has to be something the student really wants because it isn’t easy.

Young girls should know they can enter whatever field they want, she said.

“Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do just as much, if not more, than the guys can do,” Shaw said. “Things are not automatically harder for us just because we’re women.”

The exhibit will run from 3-5 p.m. on Mar. 5 in the the library’s Guyon Auditorium until Mar. 21, when it will then move to the Hegler Carus Mansion. Special hours for a Carbondale Middle School girls’ tea event will be held from 2-3:30 p.m. on Mar. 3 in the library’s third-floor rotunda.

“Between seventh and eighth grade is when children truly begin figuring out what they want to do in life, so we want them to come out and learn about engineering and get to know women studying engineering at SIU,” Hackbart-Dean said.

Hackbart-Dean said she hopes the exhibit will travel to Northern Illinois University and speak to the area’s young collegiate and middle school women because that community is close to Carus’ hometown.

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