Roberta Banaszak Gleiter, F.SWE, was one of the top students in her class when she graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Purdue in 1960, but faced such openly hostile recruiters that she gave up on her career. Instead, she stayed home and raised a family for nearly two decades, until her husband pointed out an article in the newspaper. Bonita Campbell, Ph.D., a longtime SWE member and engineering faculty at California State University, Northridge, was looking for participants for a career facilitation project launched in 1978 and funded by the National Science Foundation to update the credentials of women who had underutilized their degrees in STEM. The reentry program revived Gleiter’s professional aspirations and led to a decades-long engineering career and, eventually, her tenure as SWE’s FY99 president.

Over the years, the Society has worked to provide reentry programming, scholarships, and support for women with circuitous pathways into engineering. “What I thought that I had lost, and felt so bad about,” Gleiter recalled during a 2010 SWE oral history interview, “was actually there, ready to be retrieved.”

After her passing in 1978, SWE honored Past President Olive Salembier’s nontraditional career path through the establishment of a reentry scholarship. After briefly dropping out of college during the Great Depression, Salembier taught high school business classes, worked as stenographer and script writer in Hollywood, and owned a secretarial company before becoming a respected packaging engineer.
A 1977 article in the SWE Newsletter called for participants for the career facilitation project at California State University, Northridge. The leader of the project, Bonita Campbell, was a reentry engineer herself, having dropped out of an architectural engineering program following an automobile accident before eventually returning to school as a working, single parent. She was named SWE’s Distinguished Engineering Educator in 1988 in recognition of her tireless efforts to increase the number of female students in STEM.
A 1974 planning document for Henniker IV, the fourth Women in Engineering conference co-hosted by SWE and the Engineering Foundation, sketched out supply and demand barriers for reentry women engineers. The conference included lectures and workshops on refreshing technical skills and turning life experiences into professional assets.

– Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist