Career Barriers

Few people believed in Yvonne Brill. Her high school teacher told her that a woman would never succeed in a science career. Her father wanted her to stay at home and be a store keeper. She wasn’t allowed to study engineering at the University of Manitoba because of her gender. She disproved all of her doubters by getting a degree in both math and chemistry, and becoming the top student in both majors. She later added a master’s in chemistry to her academic credentials.

When Yvonne graduated, she joined the Douglas Corp. There was a shortage of technical graduates due to males being drafted to serve in World War II. She was a part of a team that was working on a contract for placing a satellite in an earth orbit. Basically she crunched numbers on a calculator. While at Douglas, Yvonne decided to get her masters to see if she could break out of her theoretical, paper oriented career path.

She decided to leave Douglas to get more hands-on experience. She joined a small company called Marquardt doing work on propellants for ramjets. This was when she began doing engineering work. Being the only woman engineer gave her the freedom to innovate.

The next several years in Yvonne’s career involved marriage, the birth of three children, a number of job changes and relocations, and taking time off to raise her children. When she returned to work, she pioneered the development of a new system for rocket propulsion used on rockets for the launch of commercial satellites as well as rockets used in moon missions.

Yvonne received a number of awards for her pioneering work including the National Medal of Technology and Innovation and the selection to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. She was also selected for the National Academy of Engineering and became a Fellow of the Society of Woman Engineers. It’s ironic that she has received the highest honors an engineer can receive, but was not allowed to study engineering in college.

Just imagine what it feels like being told you cannot pursue a career that you feel is right for you? How much talent was lost because of such restrictions in higher education? Are we still discouraging young persons from pursuing their dreams due to such factors as gender, race, ethnicity, economic support or other factors? How might we overcome these barriers so that individuals are no longer held back from where their talent might lead them?

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“There are still companies all over the place where they have just one woman engineer. And that individual needs to have someone – others to relate to, to maintain their equilibrium sometimes that job they hold, to help them realize they’re on the right path.”  – Yvonne Brill

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