Mines News

Release Date Thursday, March 18, 2021

Shattering the Ceiling: Women Trailblazers at South Dakota Mines

Kathy Stechmann and Diane Hammond sit at the front of a classroom in the mid 1960’s.

Pioneers break molds. They challenge the status quo. They exceed expectations.  They swim upstream. The women in the South Dakota Mines class of 1969 are no exception.

For years the male dominated demographic at Mines has mirrored the science and engineering professions. The university has had women students since the school’s founding in 1885, but actual graduates were sporadic prior to the 1960s. History began to change in 1965 as the largest group of freshman women to date registered that year. Four years later Mines witnessed the largest cohort of women graduating when 10 bachelor’s degrees were granted in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Many of the women who attended Mines in the 1960’s lead amazing careers, we caught up with three of them in this article.

“We went there because it was a very good school and didn’t think about it being a guy’s school even though women were a big minority,” remembers Kathy (Kutcher) Stechmann (Math 69). “We were there to get a degree, but also to have fun, and we did both of those things.”

“I found Mines to be very welcoming,” says Dianne Dorland, Ph.D. (ChE 69 MS ChE 70).  “I worked to get along with my male colleagues and I just enjoyed those years in college.”

Being at a school with so few other women was intimidating at first, and not without some challenges.

“I think there weren’t more women at the time because it had a reputation of being rigorous academically and male-dominated and perhaps women felt that they couldn’t go through that. However, that wasn’t accurate and the women in our class did well,” Diane (Gleason) Hammond (Math 69) recalls.

Hammond, Stechmann and Dorland dove headfirst into the college life, getting involved in extracurriculars (there were no sororities), tutoring, and working on campus.

“It was a lot cheaper to go to school then, but I still had to make my own way,” says Dorland.  “I ironed shirts and painted for $1.25 per hour. Then in my sophomore year, I began to work for the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences. I got to fly around in the airplanes that seeded clouds and eventually got my master’s degree working on an analysis of liquid water content in clouds.”

Hammond and Stechmann were also the first women residence hall advisors. The school didn’t have dormitory space on campus for women until they were juniors when the top floor of Dake Hall was converted. They jumped on the opportunity to be advisors and enjoyed taking part in Mines longstanding traditions.

“Walking into a class with only men inspired me to work harder,” Stechmann says. “But in the first couple weeks, it was intimidating. Most of the time, the guys were great and always willing to help us with finding our classrooms and telling us what the professors were like and what kind of tests they gave."

However, things were still slow to change in the business world. At the end of their senior year, when companies came to campus to interview students, a couple of companies interviewed them for jobs like ‘statistical typists’, while the men were getting more serious, high-paying offers.

“It was very frustrating,” Stechmann says. “They weren’t interviewing us for the same level positions that they were interviewing the guys. I doubt that any men were interviewed to become typists,” says Stechmann. After complaining to a campus official Stechmann says the group realized there was little they could do to fix the unfair situation at the time.

But in following years, this group of women of the Mines class of 1969 were part of an initial wave creating change. These women credit their time at Mines as an integral part of the successful careers they went on to lead.

After graduation, Hammond moved to Minneapolis and landed a position in market research at General Mills. She got her MBA at the University of Houston, and then worked at the University of Denver doing research studies for corporate and government entities, including socio-economic analyses for some of the largest mines and power plants built during the 1970s and 80s.  She ended her career as Director of Planning and Public Policy for a major telecom company. Her time at Mines taught her the enduring values of perseverance, hard work, and patience.  “Not only did I learn math, but I also learned that if you kept at something, you’d eventually be where you want to be,” says Hammond.

Stechmann went into education after finishing her math degree at Mines. She taught in Minneapolis for 34 years and was widely recognized in her district and by parents as an exceptional math teacher. She also was highly renowned as a mentor of new teachers beginning their careers. “I was in a field that had mostly guys in it, and I knew I could do just as well as they could. I didn’t think about it until, after 20 years of teaching math, someone asked me ‘is it uncomfortable teaching with only men?’, because I was one of the only women. I hadn’t really noticed, because I had worked like that at Mines and in my career otherwise,” Stechmann recalled.

Following completion of her master’s degree in 1970, Dorland went on to a career that includes work for Union Carbide, Dupont, and the US Department of Energy. She earned her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 1985 and moved to the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where she served as Chair of that department from 1990 to 2000.  Dorland then served as Dean of the College of Engineering at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ., before retiring.  During her long career she has served as a role model to many women engineers and scientists. “I think you can teach that you don’t have to settle for less, and you don’t have to let your goals and the path you’d like to follow become second best to someone else,” says Dorland.

Today, female students have an abundance of resources at Mines. Efforts like Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) offer resources including a study space with snacks, coffee, and homework help, as well as networking and outreach events.  The program also hosts wellness workshops, a weekly STEMinist study hall, social events, and industry and alumni talks. WiSE and SWE both seek to inspire and empower a new generation of female scientists and engineers.

Young women in these industries continue to be pioneers, overcoming barriers in what are still male-dominated fields, but they can take heart in the efforts of women who came before them and forged a path for so many others to follow.

 

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About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,475 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $66,150. For these reasons College Factual ranks South Dakota Mines, the #1 Engineering School for Return on Investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-721-7865, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu