On June 4, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, John S. Thackrah, announced that the Navy’s highest awards for engineers and scientists would be officially named in honor of Delores M. Etter. Read more about the Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineers Award.
Segueing from the Pentagon to academia, Delores Etter’s career serves as an example to young people who might otherwise assume math, science and engineering careers are out of reach. The former assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, Etter was named director of SMU’s new Caruth Institute for Engineering Education and will fill the new Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Engineering Education. The directorship and chair are made possible by a recent $2 million gift from the TI Foundation.
The Institute is dedicated to increasing the number and diversity of students who graduate from high schools with the knowledge and training to pursue engineering careers that are necessary for the United States to compete in a global economy.
“Engineering education is critical to the future of our region and country. By funding the TI Distinguished Chair, the TI Foundation is helping build a center of excellence in Dallas for the delivery and assessment of K-16 engineering education programs,” says TI Foundation chair Jack Swindle. Among the programs are the Infinity Project, a national education model that was the first math- and science-based high school engineering program in the country, and Visioneering, an annual program that gives middle school students the opportunity to become “engineers” for a day.
Etter also served as deputy under secretary of defense for science and technology 1998-2001. She joins SMU from the electrical engineering faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy, where she held the Office of Naval Research Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology.
“As a professor, she will inspire our students, especially as SMU strives to reach gender parity in engineering education,” says Paul Ludden, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “As the Caruth Institute director, she will have an impact beyond campus by providing effective and proven curricula and programs to develop the next generation of engineers.”
Women already make up 32 percent of the undergraduate enrollment at SMU’s School of Engineering, well above the national average of 17.5 percent. “The potential for getting more young women interested in engineering is an exciting part of the Institute’s program,” Etter says.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering, the highest recognition that can be bestowed upon an engineer in this country, Etter says her interest in engineering developed by chance at a time when women engineers were rare. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a Master’s degree in computer science at universities close to her husband’s Air Force postings in Ohio and New Mexico during the 1970s.
“I had a chance as a graduate student to do some teaching. When we moved to New Mexico, all the computer classes were taught in electrical engineering,” she says. “I took an EE course so I’d know what my students were doing, and I loved it. Suddenly, here was the practical application for all this math I’d learned.” She eventually earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico.
Etter speaks from experience about the need for training young men and women of all backgrounds to pursue engineering careers: “I have seen the challenges the military has. A really important one is making sure we have talented engineers and scientists supporting our programs in industry, and through the government laboratories and as part of the Navy programs themselves.”
The driving force behind the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education is concern that the United States could fall behind its international competitors without the targeted pursuit of math, science and engineering expertise that drove the space race of the 1960s, says School of Engineering Dean Geoffrey Orsak.
“If we don’t keep kids interested and excited about math and science, they won’t have the option to go into engineering,” Etter says. “Our mandate will be to find the innovative approaches that work. I see SMU becoming a nationally recognized center of excellence for collaborative development of these types of activities. There’s so much going on around the country, and there’s so much we can learn from each other.”
TI Foundation Grant Supports Women In Engineering Cause
The TI Foundation approved a $349,000 grant to the Caruth Institute of Engineering Education, part of the School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University, to support program management for the Women of TI Fund (WTIF) High-Tech High Heels programs in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and to fund the expansion of the Advanced Placement (AP) Physics Camps for Girls to the Plano Independent School District (Plano ISD) in 2009 and 2010.
The WTIF’s High-Tech High Heels programs include gender equity teaching strategies for educators, counselor workshops on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and physics camps for girls.