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'Great Colorado Woman' Jill Tietjen Says It's Her Mission To Write Women Back Into History

"I realized women weren’t getting awards, and women weren’t being written about, and their stories weren’t being told," says Jill Tietjen, who has written eight books highlighting the accomplishments of women, sepecifically in the STEM fields.";s:3:

In 1987 Jill Tietjen could only name one great historical woman in science and engineering.

That’s hard to believe of someone who has since spent decades nominating women for awards and writing books about the contributions of women — especially in science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM, fields.

If you had asked Tietjen what she did during most of her adult life, she would have said electrical engineer. But during her 40 years in that field, she added another job: Writing women back into history.

Tietjen says despite the fact that her father was an engineer, she was actively discouraged from pursuing the field. The lack of women when she started at the University of Virginia in 1972 — both in math and science, and on campus in general — was her first indication that more women needed to be encouraged and celebrated in STEM.

Tietjen began her career as an electrical engineer in 1976, helping to plan and construct power plants. When she moved to Colorado in 1981 she started her research into women’s contribution to the STEM fields throughout history.

She also began suggesting contemporary women for awards.

To date, she’s nominated more than 35 people to the National and Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Tietjen herself was inducted into the Colorado hall in 2010.

Rocky Mountain PBS is highlighting her story as part of their Great Colorado Women series. KUNC’s Kyra Buckley recently spoke with Tietjen about her transition to an advocate and author of women’s history.

Interview Highlights

On what inspired her:

Jill Tietjen: My father was an engineer. When I was 16 he worked at NASA Langley, which is where Hidden Figures, the movie, is based. He brought home two volumes of “Teach Yourself Fortran.” I loved it, I loved the math and science. ... This is what I wanted to do, this is what I was destined to do.

On her decision to become an advocate for women in STEM fields:
Tietjen: There weren’t very many women in the engineering school, but I thought that was a function of the fact that there weren’t very many women at the University of Virginia. I didn’t know until I went out into the workforce that there weren’t very many women in engineering, and I didn’t really understand why.
So I worked to get more women in engineering, and then I realized women weren’t getting awards, and women weren’t being written about, and their stories weren’t being told. That has now become very important to me. I’ve become a very good nominator, and I’ve written eight books, and I’m working on the 9th and the 10th at the moment. I believe it’s my personal mission to tell women’s stories — it has to be done. Our history books don’t have those stories.
On the future for women and other minority groups:
Tietjen:It took 72 years for women to get the right to vote. From the first woman's rights convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, and if you go back to Abigail Adams in 1776 when she wrote John Adams during the Continental Congress, then it took 150 years. And none of us want to wait. But also, if we don’t mobilize, if we don’t start the process to get more equal treatment, and better treatment for everyone — men and women, women of color, men of color, people of various abilities — until we understand that everyone has a contribution to make. … What if the cure for cancer is in someone’s head that doesn’t look like the current leadership?