Seizing Opportunities

How did an electrical engineer get to be the CEO of the National Women’s Hall of Fame? I have to admit that it is an unusual and circuitous career path and that many people in my audiences are quite curious about how it happened. Opportunities arise frequently for all of us.  My career path is a result of seizing those opportunities, even if, as Thomas Edison said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and  looks like work.”

The opportunity that was the genesis of my selection as the Hall’s CEO was an essay contest on great women in engineering and science – an outreach program for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to encourage students to pursue a technical career.  In 1987, when the idea was presented to me, I only knew one historical woman in science and engineering – the one that today my audiences always know – Marie Curie. In putting the essay contest together, I learned about many, many more.

The next step along my career trajectory happened in 1988 when I was elected to the SWE National Board of Directors. At my first meeting, the president asked for a volunteer to prepare nominations for the National Medal of Technology and the National Medal of Science. I raised my hand. I successfully nominated Admiral Grace Murray Hopper for the National Medal of Technology, which I received on her behalf in 1991. In 1994, she became my first successful nominee to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  To date, my successful nominations to that Hall total 25.

In 1995, the next important step along the trajectory occurred. SWE headquarters forwarded a letter to me from a woman who was writing on book that included information about women in engineering. By 1999, she and I were co-authors. To date, three volumes in the “Setting the Record Straight” series have been published. One of those volumes has been significantly revised and will appear as the first volume in a new series from Springer in 2016.

In 2002-2003, another step occurred. I was asked to speak on a women in technology panel for a gubernatorial candidate in Colorado. As a result, I was introduced to the woman who would become my co-author for the bestselling and award-winning book Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.

Then, in 2009, I was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  During my term as President of that Board, I was asked to be the CEO – the position in which I served during 2015.

How could I know that an essay contest in 1987 would result in two trips to the White House, books, speaking engagements and a job? The answer is that I did not. But, by seizing opportunities that presented themselves and doing the hard work that was required, my career and life has evolved to a most wonderful place.

Jill S. Tietjen
, P.E. graduated from the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1976 and has spent her career in the electric utility industry.  The co-author of the bestselling and award-winning book Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America, she served as CEO of the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

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