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Monday, Dec 4, 2023

New Model For Success

When Valley Village resident Roberta Gleiter graduated from college at the top of her class in 1960, she said she couldn’t obtain employment in the chemical engineering field simply because she was a woman. Fifty-five years later, Gleiter has been presented with an award for her lifetime of work and dedication toward advancing women in the STEM disciplines. She received the honor on Oct. 23 at the annual convention of the Society of Women Engineers in Nashville, Tenn. Gleiter’s journey began in 1956 when she enrolled to study chemical engineering at Purdue University, the only college at the time that would accept female engineering students. She achieved high marks throughout college, yet every company that was recruiting workers on campus had no interest in hiring her. “I don’t know if they practiced together or what, but all of them would say the same thing — ‘I’m sorry but we’ve already filled all of our vacancies. I won’t take up your time with an interview. Goodbye,”’ said Gleiter. She sent out job applications without a single bite until one of her classmates told her to stop putting her first name on her resume and to just put her first initial. After trying that approach, Gleiter landed a big interview with a large chemical company on the East Coast. Upon arriving at the company’s headquarters, Gleiter noticed a man in a suit, whom she assumed was the person in charge of hiring. She approached him to introduce herself, and he shouted, “No! You lied. You’re a woman!” while pointing his finger in her face. To which Gleiter responded, “No, I’m an engineer.” During her tour of the facilities, she was shown the ladies’ bathroom and wasn’t even allowed to see the process department, where all the engineers worked. “He actually took my hand off the door knob (of the process department) and said, ‘This is the library over here. We need a librarian,’” Gleiter recalled. After the tour, she went home, feeling beaten down by rejection, and soon after, the chemical company sent her a job offer for the vacant librarian position. Second career With no luck finding work, Gleiter married aeronautical engineer John Gleiter, with whom she had three children, Alexis, Christopher and Nicholas. It wasn’t until almost 20 years after she graduated from college when she was able to return to the workforce. Through a National Science Foundation re-entry program for women engineers held at Cal State Northridge, she landed an internship at El Segundo’s Aerospace Corp., which quickly led to a full-time position at the defense and space nonprofit research organization. During her career, she earned a master’s degree in systems management from USC and was in charge of $500 million worth of software for a satellite program. She retired in 2004 as a project engineer but was soon offered another position within the company. Currently, Gleiter is a senior-level certified hazardous materials manager, who also spends a lot of her time advocating for women engineers and girls interested in the discipline. Gleiter, along with aerospace engineer Felicita Saiez, co-founded the Global Institute for Technology and Engineering. Their nonprofit focuses on elevating women in technology and engineering worldwide. Gleiter estimates that her organization has helped at least 30,000 women in engineering that needed guidance or assistance. “It’s all about trying to have people think it’s normal for women to be an engineer,” said Saiez. “We are still a small percentage.” According to a 2015 report by the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C., women accounted for just 26 percent of computing professionals in 2013 and only made up 12 percent of working engineers that year. “A holistic approach to the STEM gender gap is essential,” said Nada Anid, dean of the school of engineering and computing sciences at the New York Institute of Technology. “Popular culture and policies all contribute to the problem and can contribute to the solution.” As chief executive of the institute, Gleiter has traveled the world to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math – the so-called STEM fields. She has given speeches at various schools and colleges and typically will stay after to talk to students individually, which she feels can make the greatest impact. “Once (women) are in the workforce, we have to make ourselves known and join organizations that showcase our efforts,” said Mary Spio, founder of virtual reality company Ceek VR Inc. in Miami. “We have to join any and every cause that allows our work to be seen, and we have to celebrate and acknowledge each other.” Every year, Gleiter bestows her national scholarship, the Roberta Banaszak Gleiter – Engineering Endeavor scholarship, to a female engineering student at the collegiate level. The scholarship is provided by the Society of Women Engineers, the same organization that awarded Gleiter. She sees the scholarship as another opportunity to get the word out about engineering and the power of women in the field. “Whenever you are asked to speak, you always speak. And whenever you can plant a seed in some child’s mind, that’s what you want to do,” she said. “We wouldn’t have anything if we didn’t have our engineers designing and making it.”

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