Roberta Banaszak Gleiter, F.SWE

SWE Fellow, past president, and reentry engineer, dedicated to raising the profile of women engineers

Roberta Banaszak Gleiter, SWE Fellow and past president, died at her Los Angeles home on July 22, 2023. She grew up in Chicago and attended Purdue University, graduating in 1960 with a B.S. in chemical engineering. Unable to find employment as an engineer because of her gender and in keeping with social norms, she married John Gleiter that same year. Eventually settling in Los Angeles, she spent two decades devoted to family life and raising three children. During those years, she advocated improved math education and introduced her community to the notion of women engineers.

Gleiter launched her career in 1980, completing a certificate program for reentrant women engineers sponsored by the National Science Foundation and granted by California State University, Northridge. She joined The Aerospace Corporation, where she worked for the next 40 years as a project engineer and technical manager in satellite and space launch systems, technical management, as well as on U.S. Department of Defense payloads for the space shuttle, and satellite and ground systems software testing. In 1986 she earned an M.S. in systems management from the University of Southern California. Gleiter received the Aerospace Corporation Individual Achievement Award as well as additional accolades from Aerospace and the U.S. Air Force.

Gleiter joined SWE while a student at Purdue and rejoined as a professional in 1982, becoming an active member of the Los Angeles Section and holding many leadership positions, including president and section representative. She served as director of the Sonora Region (B), and on the Society level as chair of the awards and recognition committee and vice president of student services before becoming Society president in 1999.

Following her term as SWE president, Gleiter served as vice chair of the American Association of Engineering Societies and led a public awareness of engineering effort. The Aerospace Corporation archives featured her story in a documentary, and separately she recorded oral histories for SWE’s archives and the women’s archives at Purdue University, which houses the Roberta Banaszak Gleiter Collection.

To recognize the 55th anniversary of her student membership in SWE, in 2011 Gleiter endowed Engineering Endeavor, a SWE scholarship. Additionally, she endowed four engineering scholarships at Purdue and one national Engineering Impact scholarship with the Chi Omega Foundation. She also co-founded and served as CEO of the Global Institute for Technology and Engineering, a nonprofit organization established in 2004 to improve the status of women in the technology and engineering workforce.

Gleiter was named a SWE Fellow in 2000. She was also a fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering and received the 2008 Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award from Purdue University. She was recognized with SWE’s Advocating Women in Engineering Award in 2015, with the citation: “For extraordinary, continuous dedication and commitment to the advancement of the engineering profession, particularly advocating the advancement of women in engineering.”

Aside from her advocacy, Gleiter enjoyed athletics, playing the piano, and photographing the many places she traveled. She participated in tennis, judo, and, until recently, hiked three miles daily through Laurel Canyon.

Learning of her death, SWE Fellows and colleagues responded with tributes and recollections. “Such a dynamic and positive woman” and “I will miss her enthusiasm and big smiles,” as well as “We have to be thankful for all the fond memories,” capture the sentiments.

Gleiter is survived by her husband, John; three children; and three grandchildren. The family requests that in lieu of flowers a memorial donation be made to an organization in keeping with the values she held dearly: supporting women in engineering or leadership roles.

— Anne Perusek, SWE Director of Editorial and Publications
Sources: SWE archives, personal correspondence, SWE Magazine, June 2000 issue; SWE Magazine; Conference 2015 issue