Chandler-Gilbert Community College
For teaching that embraces the foundations of engineering success; for creatively engaging women engineering students; and for both sparking and growing a community college SWE Affiliate that will inspire more.
Nichole Neal is a full-time residential faculty member and co-lead in the engineering department under the Division of Physical Sciences and Engineering at Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC). She serves as the advisor for the Society of Women Engineers CGCC Affiliate, the first and only affiliate from an Arizona community college, which she helped start with 10 charter members.
Neal’s engineering career began in the automotive industry and ended in commercial development. Her most rewarding roles were as director of engineering at Dayton Public Schools in Dayton, Ohio, where she managed a multimillion-dollar public school construction, and as project manager for the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority on the Gila River Indian Community, where she facilitated development meetings with district leaders and managed projects through completion.
Neal’s teaching philosophy leads students through problem-solving using the engineering design process, directs them to tools that help solve engineering problems, and inspires them to be fearless in the face of any challenges to becoming engineers. She believes engineering skills are developed through brainstorming, researching, and practice and that failure is a learning opportunity necessary for successful designs and processes.
In 2020, the SWE CGCC Affiliate was the only organization on campus to continue hosting events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neal ensured that virtual opportunities for students’ professional development remained plentiful. She encouraged her SWE officers to see opportunity in crisis, persuading college faculty and staff to attend a microaggressions workshop developed by SWE officers. It was the first student-led workshop in the college’s history.
The affiliate received the 2021 WE Local Membership Growth Award for its increase in membership. Word of the workshop’s success spread to the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD). In 2021, Neal directed her SWE leaders to share their workshop with nine other community college faculties in the district and helped them apply to be speakers at the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference, where they presented this workshop.
Neal has received many honors, including the Students’ Choice in 2019, CGCC’s Diversity Advisory Council Award in 2020, and the Student Choice Allyship, Action, and Solidarity Award in 2021 and 2022. She presented a snap session — “Give Back by Going Back to Academia” — at WE22, encouraging professionals to become professors at community colleges. She also co-created the Swing 4 SWE: Driving Women Together golf tournament, which teaches women in STEM new skills in golf and networking.
Neal holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from GMI Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering University) and an M.S. in manufacturing systems engineering from Kettering University. She is married to her college sweetheart, a mechanical engineer who is an aerospace company executive. They have two children: a daughter who holds a B.S. in biology from Xavier University in New Orleans and a son studying engineering at CGCC. She enjoys mentoring future engineers, reading, traveling, and binge-watching content-streaming platforms.