Helene Finger, P.E.
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
For a career dedicated to empowering women engineers; for spurring them to reach their potential; and for her profound impact on retention of women engineering students, particularly women of color.
Helene Ansolabehere Finger, P.E., is director of the Women’s Engineering Program (WEP) at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly), a position she has had since 2000. Throughout her 34-year engineering career, spanning positions in industry and academia, she has worked to advance women’s contributions to the engineering profession.
Finger has been a faculty member teaching in the Cal Poly civil and environmental engineering department since 1997, breaking only to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara, to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering focused on computational science and engineering/thermo-fluid sciences.
She became the faculty advisor of the Society of Women Engineers Cal Poly Collegiate Section in 2000. Under her leadership, the section grew to one of the largest and most active in the country. Her zeal for inspiring and mentoring students to the highest levels of professionalism has created a legacy of former students who serve as engineers and leaders throughout the nation. Fourteen former students have received national SWE awards.
Her service to SWE also includes co-founding the SWE Central Coast Section, where she continues to serve as a leader, co-hosting two regional conferences and serving on the national conference programming board. Nationally, she received the Outstanding SWE Counselor and the Outstanding SWE Faculty Advisor awards in 2013 and 2019, respectively. She also received the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) DuPont Minorities in Engineering Award in 2015, and the Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN) Women in Engineering Program Award in 2014, among others.
Finger remains involved in research on recruitment and retention of women engineering students. She served as the inaugural chair of the College of Engineering’s diversity and inclusion recruitment committee, which was instrumental in modifying collegewide hiring procedures to promote diverse faculty. Her efforts produced real progress in the recruitment of women to engineering at Cal Poly, with first-year women’s enrollment increasing from 11.8% in 2004 to 30% in 2022.
Finger is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a licensed professional civil engineer. She holds a B.S. in civil engineering and an M.S. in civil and environmental engineering, both from Cal Poly. In addition to her university responsibilities, she worked as a consultant on the Fukushima tsunami re-evaluation project for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, providing engineering assessment of the project, including tsunami modeling, projectile loading analysis, and hydrostatic/hydrodynamic loading calculations.
She resides in San Luis Obispo, where she and her husband raised two children. She is grateful to her grandparents, who immigrated to the United States to provide better opportunities for their families, and to her parents, both first-generation high school and college graduates, for whom English is a second language.