Coming from a variety of disciplines and diverse backgrounds from across the globe, the 2021 Women Engineers You Should Know make the world a better place.
By Seabright McCabe, SWE Contributor
Today’s women engineers are multidimensional. They are serial entrepreneurs and educators. They are inventors and pioneers in new and existing technologies. They are key members of technical teams, where they are breaking barriers for themselves and others in ways that improve and benefit society now and into the future.
They are also partners, spouses, mothers, daughters, friends, and members of a wider community.
These women have learned how to adapt through life’s twists and turns. They keep going, then circle back with their stories, offering priceless mentorship, role modeling, and outreach to other women.
Their examples are underlined by the determination, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and desire that living life well requires.
“Who are the women engineers we should know?” As we have since 2015, SWE Magazine asked that question across its social media platforms and came back with a long list of nominees — women not normally in the spotlight — for consideration by the SWE Magazine editorial board.
In the seventh year of what is now an annual series, producing a final list remains challenging, given the depth and breadth of the candidates. Our selections are not meant to be definitive.
Rym Baouendi works at the intersection of sustainability, urban planning, innovation, and youth empowerment. Beginning her career as a Concordia University researcher investigating the life cycle of buildings, she branched out, traveling to the United States, Canada, the UK, and the Middle East/Africa regions. She worked in construction with the Kiewit Corporation, in engineering with global firm Buro Happold, in urban policy with the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, and in capacity building with the World Green Building Council.
In 2011, Baouendi’s career took an unexpected turn. With the advent of the Arab Spring, which sparked in her home country, Tunisia, she felt called to support and empower Tunisian youth through entrepreneurship development. She started by co-founding Cogite, Tunisia’s first innovation hub, which became the epicenter of Tunisia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. In parallel, she developed programs to further reinforce the local entrepreneurship ecosystem, as an advisor to the BIAT Foundation, AfricInvest, and Enda Inter-Arabe. And she volunteered as a mentor, board member, and guest lecturer at universities.
Last year, Baouendi initiated Oboot, a youth innovation initiative targeting GenZers (those born between 1995 and 2010) and introducing them to “changemaking.” Seeing the generation’s deep concern about climate change, she took further action, and is currently working to accelerate climate solutions with her latest venture, OffSetGo.
A native of northern California, Kristen Bridgeman graduated from Stanford University, beginning her career as a chemical engineer with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. She wanted to become a biomedical engineer, but, as the saying goes, “life happens when you’re making other plans.” She married, had her first child, and moved to Indiana.
A one-year leave turned into 20, and two more children. Bridgeman volunteered her engineering and organizational skills in the schools and became a leader in her church. She became a director at her daughter’s dance school, which built her project management skills. “If you can organize 200 kids to perform The Nutcracker, you can do anything,” she says.
Bridgeman re-entered engineering as a contractor, working with Cummins Inc. Within a year, she was hired full time and became involved in several Cummins Technical Women’s Leadership initiatives. One of them, Repower, works with SWE, helping women ease back into STEM careers through six-month “returnships.” Bridgeman was instrumental in the program’s successful first cohort.
Previously an engine controls manager and now a product development excellence director, Bridgeman also volunteers, co-leading the global development committee for Cummins Leading Inclusion for Technical Program, and leading planning for the global Cummins Women in Technology conferences.
Ruth Coker Collins
Ruth Coker Collins is a powerhouse public servant, recently named deputy minister of technical services and acting public works minister for Liberia, charged with connecting, and improving, the country’s burgeoning road system. Thirty days after taking office, she had toured all six counties in southeast Liberia, following up on existing road projects.
Previously, Coker Collins was chief engineer and CEO of Tabitha Renaissance Engineering and Design. Before that, she served as material management assistant for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.
Coker Collins is a unifier, and many of her staff call her style “Rainbow Leadership” that crosses regional and partisan divides. And if anyone’s up to the task of overseeing the country’s infrastructure and over 13,019 km of road, it’s her.
Under her watch, several projects are racing forward: recommissioning of the RIA Road Reconstruction and Modernization Plan; installation of 1,500 streetlights in and around Monrovia; and guiding resettlements ahead of civil works due to commence next year.
With Coker Collins as CEO, Tabitha Renaissance became known for its high-quality work and timely execution, winning contracts from Liberia’s Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Collins is a SWE Global Ambassador and a USAID SMI-L (Sustainable Marketplace Initiative) Champion. She graduated from Stella Maris Polytechnic University with a B.S. in civil engineering and has an MBA in management from Cuttington University School of Graduate and Professional Studies.
Silvana Ghiu, Ph.D., P.E.
San Diego, California
Growing up in Romania, Silvana Ghiu, Ph.D., P.E., played in the Black Sea, pretending to be a scuba diver exploring its sandy bottom. By 2017, she had become a certified diver in San Diego, taking up underwater photography in the dark, cold waters off the California coast.
Dr. Ghiu’s wholehearted embrace of marine environments is underscored by an urge to understand and protect them. After earning her B.Sc. in environmental physics in Romania and her M.Sc. in environmental science and policy in Hungary, she received a scholarship to pursue her Ph.D. in environmental engineering in Florida, leaving her family, friends, and everything she was familiar with, an ocean behind.
After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Ghiu helped design desalination plants in Asia, the Middle East, and Australia. Her expertise in desalination and brine disposal were instrumental in providing sustainable drinking water for millions of people, while protecting marine ecosystems and coastlines.
Moving to drought-stricken California, Dr. Ghiu, senior associate with Hazen and Sawyer, now helps municipalities provide safe drinking water. She’s been central in the mechanical design of treatment facilities for the San Fernando Basin; the City of Monterey Park’s treatment facility for 1,4-dioxane, volatile organic compounds, and perfluoroalkyl substances; and brine waste minimization for the Coachella Valley Water District.
Ayanna Howard, Ph.D.
Roboticist, educator, entrepreneur, role model — Ayanna Howard, Ph.D., is the first woman to lead The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Engineering. Previously, Dr. Howard served as chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, teaching machine learning and robotics. Throughout her career, her belief that “every engineer has the responsibility to make the world a better place” has run like a golden thread.
She holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with a minor in computer science. She spent 13 years in robotics research and development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and 16 years at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2013, Dr. Howard co-founded Zyrobotics, a Georgia Tech spinoff, which uses machine learning and robots to make educational toys for children with special needs.
Among her many accolades is a spot on Forbes magazine’s America’s Top 50 Women in Tech. Dr. Howard is also a tenured professor in OSU’s department of electrical and computer engineering, with a joint appointment in computer science and engineering.
Throughout her career, Dr. Howard has been active in helping to diversify the engineering profession for women, underrepresented minorities, and individuals with disabilities.
St. Louis, Missouri
Rachel Hunter is a recent mechanical engineering graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) who’s dedicated to two things: STEM outreach and rowing. During her first year at MSOE, with no prior rowing experience, Hunter, along with three of her friends, co-founded the university’s first women’s rowing team. Later, she helped create a program called STEM to Stern, to give underserved youth access to the sport. Breaking barriers to inclusion, such as transportation, swimming lessons, and club fees, the program, based at the Milwaukee Rowing Club, also partners with MSOE to incorporate STEM outreach each week.
Rowing is the focal point of the STEM to Stern program. Clubs use the sport to build relationships among students who otherwise would not interact or compete together, creating a diverse and inclusive competitive environment. And, with a STEM component as part of the program, students learn critical thinking as well as problem-solving and life skills, on and off the water.
Hunter now serves as STEM director for STEM to Stern, as it works to expand throughout the United States. She is a manufacturing engineer with Eaton Corporation and has been selected to participate in the company’s Leadership Development Program.
Anne-Louise Radimsky, Ph.D.
Computer science has lost a pioneering woman of the first post-World War II generation. Anne-Louise Radimsky, Ph.D., was born in France on Dec. 3, 1941.
She worked as an aeronautical engineer in France before winning a scholarship to study at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s. Dr. Radimsky received an M.S. in electrical engineering and computer science in 1967, and her Ph.D. in 1973. She was one of only three women to earn a similar doctorate from Berkeley that year — and one of only 14 in that entire decade.
Dr. Radimsky became the first female faculty member in the electrical engineering and computer science department at UC Davis. Unafraid to “go against the grain,” she was known and loved for her directness, sense of humor, and intellectual heft.
In 1979, she joined the computer science department at California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State), retiring as professor of computer science emerita three decades later. She was a senior member of IEEE and vice chair of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Sacramento chapter.
Dr. Radimsky was also a Computing Sciences Accreditation Board volunteer and a sitting ABET computing accreditation commissioner at the time of her passing. Her legacy lives on through the Dr. Anne-Louise Radimsky Memorial Scholarship at Sacramento State.
Amy Reiss, P.E.
Amy Reiss, P.E., is a technical leader, mentor, teacher, role model — and living proof that being a woman engineer can be exciting and influential.
A senior technical fellow with The Boeing Company and a SWE senior life member, Reiss’ 36-year career spans electrical and systems engineering, aircraft cybersecurity, mission avionics, space launch systems, open systems, and model-based security engineering. Early in her career, she received a patent for a glass-encapsulated solar array that can withstand laser attack. Recently, she received the 2020 SWE Patent Recognition Award for her role in patenting in-flight data recorder streaming.
Reiss, a Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP®), has led international systems engineering teams on large-scale development programs, from spacecraft to submarines. Her accomplishments have indirectly influenced nonproliferation of intercontinental ballistic missile technology since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And, as a technical mission manager, she’s been on-console during satellite launches, making go/no-go decisions.
She teaches at Boeing and in the STEM community. At the International Space University, she co-led a design project for an International Lunar Farside Observatory and Science Station, involving participants from 28 countries. She has taught commercial space launch engineering to students in France, Thailand, and the United States.
Reiss is celebrated for her clarity, insight, and enthusiasm, as a mentor and role model for women engineers — many of them SWE members.
Madhusmita Swain’s story is one of hard work, perseverance, and gratitude — of uplifting herself and others.
Swain came from a small village in India. Her father, a teacher and a farmer, made her education a priority. He was her inspiration and example. Even with modest means, she and her siblings were always first in their classes at school.
In college, just before her final exams, Swain was stung on her writing hand by a bee. Unable to write through the pain, she received low grades, which locked her out of prestigious colleges of engineering. She pursued a three-year diploma in mechanical engineering instead of a four-year degree.
Swain’s native language is Odia, and while her exposure to other languages was limited, that didn’t stop her. She began her career as a tool designer in Haryana, a Hindi-speaking state. She learned Hindi. Later, Swain moved to Tamil Nadu and faced the same barrier with English. She overcame it.
Currently a senior design engineer in Integrated Components and Solutions with the India Division of Caterpillar Inc., Swain works on hydraulics systems for paving products. From technology introduction to new product design and development, she has enthusiastically taken a central role in teams and programs throughout her 12-year career with the company.
Niyati Tamaskar is an electrical and computer engineer with 15 years’ experience developing electronic controls for machine and engine applications. Her love of engineering is equaled by her dedication as North American leader for Cummins Women in Technology, and she promotes STEM education and engineering careers among minorities.
At 34, Tamaskar was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. She was breastfeeding her second child at the time. Growing up in India, she found discussion of serious illness was often discouraged. Tamaskar chose not to be silent, writing a 2019 memoir about her cancer journey. She donates all proceeds of Unafraid: A Survivor’s Quest for Human Connection to the American Cancer Society. Unafraid was featured in Forbes magazine as one of eight books that will help to spark human connection.
Tamaskar connects with women of color with breast cancer locally and nationally. She helps navigate medical jargon, sheds light on reconstruction processes, and brainstorms strategies, nourishing their self-advocacy. Tamaskar has given talks on “the power of vulnerability” at Cummins Inc. and has given a TEDx talk on the cultural bias and stigma associated with cancer.
She volunteers for Girls Inc. and is part of Cummins’ engineering recruiting team for The Ohio State University. She currently lives in Columbus, Indiana, with her husband and two children.