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Mother with her three sons

Source: Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering

Carolyn Duran, president of the Materials Research Society, with her sons

With less than 30% of researchers in science being female, it is no surprise that women in the field must overcome their own unique set of challenges. Elizabeth Dickey, Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) department head, alumnae Carolyn Duran (MSE ’92), and Ellen Cerreta (MSE  ’01) are breaking down barriers, increasing female representation in materials, and working to impact and encourage future generations through their executive roles in professional societies for scientists and engineers.

Carolyn Duran was introduced to materials science at Carnegie Mellon University the summer before her first year where her work with MSE Professor Alan Cramb would become so influential that she would stay within his research group for the next four years and later carry the passion for MSE and education into her career. Duran was named the 2022 president of the Materials Research Society and has made it her goal to increase engagement between the society and industry.

“During my time at CMU, the graduate students took me under their wing in a very positive way,” she remembered.  “At the time I thought, ‘Wow, I want to be just like them.’ This field is relatively small, and I’ve been able to stay connected with scientists from different parts of my life and continue to find sources of inspiration.”

Over the last 20 years, Duran has served in various positions at Intel Corporation, and is currently transitioning back into a role focused on materials science in the Components Research organization, which focuses on semiconductor research to advance Moore’s Law.

You can keep your vision, and step sideways or backwards and still end up where you want to go.

Carolyn Duran, Intel Corporation

“When you have a vision of where you want to go, you have to come to the realization that your steps might not be straight, and that’s okay. You can keep your vision, and step sideways or backwards and still end up where you want to go,” Duran advises.

Headshot of Cerreta

Source: Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering

Ellen Cerreta, president of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society

Ellen Cerreta was named president of The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society (TMS) in April 2021. She has been involved with TMS since early in her career where she met her postdoc mentor and was connected with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she still works today as a division leader. Cerreta’s research focuses on the relationship between microstructure and dynamic material properties and provides innovative and agile materials science and technology solutions for national security missions.

“I could be the poster child for why joining a professional society is beneficial,” Cerreta laughed. “Not only is it a great networking opportunity to find a job, but it’s also a place where you can have a really honest look at your work and make sure that you’re going in the right direction by leveraging all the know-how within the profession.”  

Cerreta is passionate about making TMS a society that promotes equity and inclusion. Throughout her career, it has been helpful for her to see women at all levels of leadership succeed so that as she found her own path, she could be guided by theirs. “I feel strongly that we’re going to be able to solve the really tough challenges that are in front of the materials community, but these are all-hands-on deck-problems. There can’t be parts of the profession that don’t feel like they have a seat at the table.”

If we’re going to solve the really tough challenges facing the materials community, there can’t be parts of the profession that don’t have a seat at the table.

Ellen Cerreta, Division Leader, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Elizabeth Dickey thanks her mentors, particularly her parents, for enabling her to claim her seat at the engineering table.

“They always gave me the chance to fail,” Dickey explained. “Failure is such an important part of learning and my parents never stopped encouraging me to try again. It made me feel capable to take chances in my career and has led me to where I am today.”

Dickey is the 2021-2022 president of The American Ceramic Society and wants to focus her term on increasing membership and membership engagement. During her career, she benefitted from a network of academic and industry partners, and she wants to continue to strengthen the connection of these two groups to play a role in mentoring students and young professionals.

“I’d encourage all students interested in engineering to consider materials science. Our work spans many industries, and as new materials are developed, new jobs are created. We really make our own opportunities,” said Dickey.

I encourage students to consider materials science. It spans many industries, and as new materials are developed, new jobs are created. We really make our own opportunities.

Beth Dickey, Department Head, Materials Science and Engineering

As more and more women, like Elizabeth Dickey, Carolyn Duran, and Ellen Cerreta, become leaders in science and engineering, the representation dynamic will shift, and perhaps more people will think the same way as Duran’s son.

“Many years ago,” she says, “I remember saying to him, ‘Maybe you’ll become an engineer.’ And without hesitation he responded, ‘But, girls do that.’ ” 

Girls do do that, and the world is advancing every day because of it.

Top photo: Beth Dickey being appointed President of The American Ceramic Society.