Forbes’ 2019 America’s Most Innovative Leaders named only one woman on the entire 100-person list. Cornell’s Society of Women Engineers saw this lack of representation as an opportunity to showcase female leaders in STEM within the Cornell community.
The result was Wall of Wonder: Cornell Women Leading the Way in Science, Technology, and Engineering, a book of short biographies of 27 inspiring alumnae, written by SWE co-presidents Madeline Dubelier ’20 and Catherine Gurecky ’20, alongside member Abigail Macaluso ’20.
The three also worked with David Ross Jansen ’22, a performing and media arts student who illustrated portraits of each of the women. Proceeds from the book will go to K-12 outreach programs organized by the Cornell SWE chapter.
The title “Wall of Wonder” comes from the authors’ goal to display inspiring role models to young girls. The book, published on June 15, profiles women of all ages, from 1960s Cornell alumnae who were some of the only women in their classes to those applying to MBA programs.
The team received more than 60 nominations from a variety of sources, including the President’s Council of Cornell Women, the Cornell Engineering Alumni Association, Facebook groups and their own LinkedIn networks. From these nominations, they selected about half of the nominees for an interview based on a desire to represent a diverse range of profiles, industries and experiences.
“Being recognized in this way has been really empowering for these women,” Dubelier said of the alumnae they interviewed. “They have all of these other accolades, but what does meaningful recognition look like?”
The three authors did not emphasize listing accolades and awards, or information that readers could find online in company biographies. Instead, they focused on the motivations, engagement, outreach and advice to younger selves of the women they profiled.
Prenthis Davis Aguilar ’86, who studied mechanical and aerospace engineering, is the first woman featured in the book. Aguilar has worked for 17 years on aircrafts for the Navy and Air Force at Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense company. She currently manages a team as an environmental qualification engineer, a role that ensures aircrafts are safe for the operators and maintainers.
In Aguilar’s experience, studying mechanical and aerospace engineering as a woman in the 1980s “wasn’t easy.” Aguilar found a community in the Cornell chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, where she served as a board member.
She recalled one of her favorite memories in NSBE when she flew in an airplane for the first time for a club-sponsored trip.
“I had my fluid dynamics book with me at the time when we flew from Syracuse to San Francisco,” Aguilar said. “It was a thrilling experience to be studying fluid dynamics while taking my first airplane trip.”
Aguilar said she was excited and surprised when she found out she was nominated for the book.
Aguilar said that her mission is to increase technological literacy among women her age. In addition to her work at Northrop Gruman, she developed a website where she can talk to other women about technical products.
“Being a female leader in STEM means using your voice when you’re at the table,” Aguilar said. “You’re just as smart as anyone else. I know that can be intimidating for some people, but it’s important. That’s what being a leader is about, is overcoming your own fear.”
Aguilar suggested that those interested in the book consider giving it as a gift to a young girl, or donating it to a school library.
The experience of writing and publishing a book was a formative experience for Dubelier, Gurecky and Macaluso. Gurecky added that they learned how to manage the logistics of such a large project.
The three shared some advice for people who may have an idea for their own passion project. Dubelier advises to “find good people to do it with you.” For those worried about the time commitment of a large project, Gurecky said that “you deserve the time to do something that makes you happy.”
“Take senior year for yourself,” Macaluso said, “and do it how you want to do it.”