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Oral History Project of Underrepresented Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session - Development Opportunities for Diverse Engineering Students

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Kelsey Morgan Irvin Washington University in St. Louis

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Kelsey Irvin is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis double majoring in the Cognitive Neuroscience track of Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology and Psychology and hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology. She is currently working on her honors thesis, which involves using neural measures to research reward processing in preschoolers with depression.

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Elizabeth Hiteshue University of Pennsylvania

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Elizabeth Hiteshue graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015, studying systems science and engineering and nutrition. Originally from Medina, Ohio, she worked at the Air Force Institute of Technology under Dr. Lanzerotti as a summer research intern in 2013.

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Mary Yvonne Lanzerotti Air Force Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Lanzerotti is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Augsburg College (Minneapolis, MN), an Adjunct Associate Professor of Computer Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and an Affiliate Researcher at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN). She received her A.B. from Harvard College, M. Phil. from University of Cambridge (U.K.), and her Ph.D. from Cornell University, all in physics.

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Michael Geselowitz Stevens Institute of Technology

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Michael N. Geselowitz is the senior director of the IEEE History Center, a joint program of IEEE Inc. and Stevens Institute of technology. Through this arrangement, he is also an Industry Associate Prfoessor of the history of technology and of science, technology, and society at Stevens.

Geselowitz holds B.S. degrees in electrical engineering and in anthropology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology from Harvard University. His focus has been on the role of history and social relations of engineering and technology at all levels. He has worked as an electronics engineer for the Department of Defense and held teaching and research positions relating to the social study of technology at M.I.T., Harvard, and Yale University, including a stint as assistant collections manager/curator at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Immediately prior to joining IEEE in 1997, Geselowitz was group manager at Eric Marder Associates, a New York market research firm, where he supervised Ph.D. scientists and social scientists undertaking market analyses for Fortune 500 high-tech companies. He is also a registered Patent Agent.

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This paper describes an Oral History Project organized by a STEM faculty member at an institution of higher education in the United States and the history center of the world’s largest technology organization for the advancement of technology to create a mentorship program to inspire the next generation of underrepresented young people in STEM. The students are U.S. citizens, which is a desired demographic and can help increase the STEM workforce nationally.

In this project, participating underrepresented STEM undergraduate students collect oral histories of underrepresented populations who are key leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The leaders are CEOs at science and technology companies, members of the National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences, and faculty who hold positions at leading institutions of higher education. Students select leaders whose careers align with the desired career fields of the underrepresented students. The oral histories are archived in perpetuity by the IEEE on the Engineering and Technology History Technology Wiki ( The students receive training in oral history from the IEEE History Center, which provides trained students with Oral History certificates.

Five oral histories are collected and archived since 2013, and six additional interviews are being scheduled in 2015-2016. The archived Oral History Interviewees are Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, Ms. Deborah Anderson, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang, Dr. Heidi Ries, and Dr. Susan Coppersmith. Links to their Oral Histories are posted on the Engineering and Technology History Wiki ( Dr. Dresselhaus is a Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Massaschusetts, and was awarded the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Dr. Dresselhaus is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences. Ms. Anderson is the daughter of Joseph Desch, of the four-rotor Bombe in World War II produced by National Cash Register. Dr. Jennie Hwang is CEO of H-Technologies Group in Akron, Ohio, and is the first female from Ohio to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Heidi Ries is Professor of Physics and Dean for Research at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Dr. Susan Coppersmith is Robert E. Fassnacht and Vilas Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The project provides unique mentorship to the students so that they are motivated to graduate in STEM fields and, at the same time, archives original sources that are key pieces of our societal history. There is a need for capturing the oral histories of underrepresented distinguished STEM leaders because a survey of the National Academy of Engineering database and National Academy of Sciences database shows that many of these individuals' oral histories are not yet archived in oral history databases. At the same time there is a need to motivate underrepresented students to graduate with STEM degrees, and this project links students with unique mentorship.

In this project, we use the methodology of oral history because oral history is a recognized “field of study and a method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.” As the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, oral history is also the most modern since today it is implemented with 21st century technologies. The project draws on best practices from other oral history projects, such as those collected in 2001-2003 through the “Oral History of Women in Computing Project” of Dr. Janet Abbate, who is Associate Professor of Science and Technology in Society, at the Northern Virginia campus of Virginia Tech University.

We are excited to report in this paper that in June 2015, one of the first participating students graduated with a STEM degree and is starting her career. This student is the first STEM graduate in her family and is a co-author on this paper. This paper will present the first-hand description of the impact on the career outlook of this student and on the career outlooks of the other participating students who conducted all aspects of the project. In this component of the paper, the students will describe their initial career path flowchart and their current career path flowchart that is being continuously informed by exposure to today’s distinguished underrepresented leaders in science and engineering. This paper also identifies factors in the career development of these distinguished individuals that led to their career success. At the same time, the one-on-one exposure of STEM students to some of the world’s leading science and engineering pioneers is designed to be a life-changing and career-building experience for female students collecting oral histories as part of this project, since an oral history consists of a recorded conversation of a “well-informed interviewer questioning an interviewee.”

The student participants are underrepresented undergraduates majoring in STEM fields who are U.S. citizens, rather than graduate students who might be seen as better qualified, in order to motivate the undergraduates to continue in their STEM careers, to retain them in STEM careers, and to encourage them to graduate with STEM degrees. Through participating in the oral history project, the undergraduate students will learn directly from potential mentors who are recognized leaders in their fields. During the course of approximately nine months, the students prepare oral history interview questions with supervision from the PI and co-PI at the IEEE History Center (The PI is trained in oral history), conduct and transcribe the interview, and revise the interview with the interviewee.

Irvin, K. M., & Hiteshue, E., & Lanzerotti, M. Y., & Geselowitz, M. (2016, June), Oral History Project of Underrepresented Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25843

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