GPS brought back one of its own to kick off the speaker series for the new Engineering Design & Application class. Dr. Julie Ellis ’75, professor and Engineering Department Chair at Western Kentucky University, discussed her experiences in the engineering world with a range of Upper School students.
Dr. Ellis began with a question, “Why are you in an engineering class?” before telling her own story. A good student in math and science, she nevertheless went to college without a goal to be an engineer. After transferring to Georgia Tech to finish her undergraduate work, she had a co-op experience that led to an understanding of the “process” of engineering. That in turn led to industry work and a Ph.D. from Duke.
"Communication is the critical key to engineering,” she said. “Engineering is a social science,” explained Dr. Ellis, “and the teamwork necessary” requires the ability to write and speak clearly, all skills she attributes to her years at GPS. “Working on teams with non-engineers requires clear communication.”
Another attraction of engineering, she said, is “solving problems, real-life problems experienced by real-life people.” The “changing the world” possibilities are what draw women to the field, she said, although not yet in the numbers she thinks are necessary.
Dr. Ellis concluded by challenging the students to consider the “grand challenges” identified by the National Academy of Engineering over the next few decades: energy from fusion, access to clean water, restoring urban infrastructure, engineering better medicine, and securing cyberspace, among others.