Patently A Step Ahead: NYU-Poly Alumnae Illustrate the Future of Women in Engineering

"Once you leave school and go out into the workforce, it's not always clear how you'll leverage what you've studied," Ruthie Lyle said after her presentation at last month's WEST (Women in Engineering, Science and Technology) Symposium at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. 

WEST, held once a year at NYU-Poly, this time open to high school students considering pursuing a degree at the Institute, included a student panel led by Sarah Allen, Computer Science; Sarah Appelbaum, Chemical and Biological Engineering; Sukari Brown, Civil Engineering; and Rachel Effendy, Computer Science. A faculty panel also took place with NYU-Poly professors Jin Kim Montclare, Chemical and Biological Science, and Lindsey Van Wagenen, Mathematics. 

It was the first time Lyle had visited the campus since she graduated in 1998. Forbes has listed NYU-Poly among the top ten universities for women interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, and alumnae like Lyle and Sharon Gershi, who joined Lyle in presenting to WEST attendees, demonstrate why the esteemed publication ranks it so highly.

"We have some pretty famous alumnae," Lyle said, program materials from the event illustrating her point: A handout counted Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, and Eleanor K. Baum, Dean of Engineering at Cooper Union, among a host of successful women who have graduated from NYU-Poly. Indeed, Lyle was a featured speaker at WEST because of her own impressive achievements: the holder of more than forty patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Lyle has 150-plus more patent applications on file with the office. She spoke about her experience, explaining the expenses involved—filing costs about $15,000, not including maintenance fees—as well as the reasons patents are important. 

On a macro level, Lyle said, there are serious business implications. Citing retail giant as an example, Lyle explained how the company patented one-click Internet purchases, a buying method its competitors can't copy, which is at least one reason why Amazon has been so successful. On a micro level, filing patents can enhance a young engineer's career and professional credentials and, in the case of corporate-sponsored employee programs, garner monetary awards at the workplace.

Lyle's professional achievements speak for themselves. The alumna has spent most of her career with the multinational technology and software company IBM, where she was a selected participant of its Master Inventor program, and has received enviable awards, such as IBM’s 2009 Research Triangle Park (RTP) Inventor of the Year from the North Carolina Technical Experts Council.

Gershi, who recently graduated from NYU-Poly with a dual degree in electrical and computer engineering in May, is at the start of her career, but it holds as much promise as Lyle's has foretold. Already the graduate is a technology analyst at the notoriously competitive financial services firm Goldman Sachs, a position she earned before graduation. In fact, Gershi had secured a position with the company before the first semester of her senior year had even ended.

How did she do it? "Companies know how hard NYU-Poly students work," Gershi said. "They know what to expect from its grads, so all you have to do is submit your résumè through the career center."

Of course, Gershi's accomplishments haven't been the simple result of turning in a slip of paper at NYU-Poly's Career Management Office. She graduated summa cum laude from the school, where she was also an active member of its community—president of the performing arts club, roboticist at PolyBots, and summer researcher at its Information Systems and Internet Security lab, among other honors.

Gershi is frank about the work involved in reaching her goals. "I'm not going to lie," she said. "Engineering is hard. You have to be dedicated, but if you like math and science and you're a hard worker, you can do it."