Five Women at Work, with Passion & Commitment
by Diane DeBella

In a head nod to Vermont Woman’s first issue, which featured an eclectic group of 10 women, we interviewed five Vermont women who have made outstanding contributions in a wide variety of fields: Thea Alvin, stonemason; Mari Cordes, state legislator; Katrina Ducharme, state trooper; Peggy Luhrs, activist; and Linda Schadler, scientist. These five women talk about how they chose their paths in life and what keeps them going, what keeps the passion alive.

Thea Alvin sits in one of her fabulous stone creations.


Thea Alvin: Stonemason, Sculptor, Teacher

When a fire becomes hot enough, even stone will crack. A stone structure, once solid and resilient, can collapse into a heap of dust. Internationally acclaimed stonemason and sculptor Thea Alvin, 51, knows firsthand the devastation of fire. In December of 2017, she was enjoying the creative community of artists who had come to live with her and her partner, sculptor Michael Clookey, at their home in Morristown. They shared meals together and focused on creating their art, which they displayed and sold in the Rock, Paper, Scissors Gallery on the property.

All that changed when a fire destroyed the barn, gallery, and part of the main house a day before the winter solstice. A beloved herd of goats and most of the chickens perished, as did countless antiques and much of Alvin and her husband’s life work. Anyone experiencing such trauma, loss, and grief would be tempted to collapse into a heap of dust. Yet Alvin woke the next day and put one foot in front of the other—steadfast, strong, and resilient.

“I look at this renovation and rebuilding in the same way that I look at any sculpture. Now I am building a sculpture to live in, and every aspect has been curated and carefully thought out,” she says. “I walk through the home I am creating in my head in the process of designing it, and I imagine it during the different Vermont seasons; I think of all the people who have helped, and those who will share meals and make memories in it, and I process it like any other sculpture—except this is a wood one that I will live in.”

Alvin knows how to grieve constructively, a skill she had to learn at a very young age when she became a pawn in her parents’ divorce. Yet before leaving home at 18, she spent two years learning her father’s trade of stonemasonry, which ironically became the healing passion that sustained her after subsequent trauma, including a painful divorce that left her estranged from her only son.

“I have had a fair amount of tragedy and drama in my life, and I use my sculpture as an outlet to cope with pain and loss and grief and rage. I put that anger and sorrow into my physical output. Through the difficult task of building and creating, my body vents something beautiful instead of leaving the pain stuck inside of me emotionally.”

Before the fire, Alvin traveled extensively, installing her stonework and teaching across the globe. An internationally known artist, Alvin has appeared on Oprah Winfrey, been interviewed on NPR, and written about in the New York Times, as well as receiving local coverage in the Burlington Free Press, the Rutland Herald, and Seven Days. Alvin has done a number of ambitious projects in the United States (a visit to her website reveals the astonishing scope of her work: she is known for her dry-wall artistry with stone, able to coax rocks into soaring arcs, seemingly defying gravity, with no mortar or rebar keeping them aloft. Every year she travels to Italy as part of an ongoing collaborative project, working with Italian stone mason to restore 15th-century buildings at a site called Ghesc in southern Italy.

But the fire, together with her mother’s struggles with memory issues, has lately kept Alvin closer to home, though she continues to travel to Italy and is currently finishing up an amazing stone oven in the shape of a turtle for Red Hen Baking in Middlesex.

“At the moment my priority is my home and my mom. I don’t have goals for the future; I’ve never had dreams of things that I want to do because I am made to do them immediately. If it’s important, I do it right now. It’s not that I don’t have the capacity to dream; it’s that I fulfill my dreams in the moment. I begin building immediately. It’s why I am so prolific. If I get an idea, I will take down an old sculpture and build a new one. That expression can come out, and it’s not pent up.”

A large part of Alvin’s recent shift in focus has included more time spent teaching: “My capacity to teach these skills is increasing while my physical installation is less than it was in the past. I am teaching more people so that it’s not a lost art. As a teacher I recommend that people breathe and move in a yogic way. Tai chi is a body movement I do all day long in my stonework. You’re allowed to meditate into just the building and the breathing and the movement of it, and at the end of the day instead of just having gone through a movement and breathing exercise, you’ve gone through a constructive thing. You have a sense of pride and self-satisfaction of having accomplished a physical manifestation of what you are practicing emotionally. It becomes a spiritual act.”

As her thoughts turn to other women, she reflects on her own experiences. “My sculpting is how I heal. As women we can be our own toughest critics—we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and on other women. Every single thing I do has an impact on something else. I want us to respect one another now. I try to be present and respectful of the people around me. I am generous and gracious, and I expect the same. I must live in the positive. I just keep moving forward, making beautiful things. That is the only way I know how to live. I keep going forward. I keep creating. Things have been traumatic and weird and broken, but I have been able to build beautiful things and create a beautiful world.”

When asked about advice she might have for other women, she doesn’t hesitate: “You do you. Women tend to wait for a man or a partner or a job or a school; we spend so much time waiting, and we are wasting time and losing opportunity. Go out and challenge yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to validate you. Go do you and be that person you want to be. When you are out there and happy, it will happen. You’re in charge of your emotional well-being. Don’t wait for someone else. Stonework is the place I get to be me. I’m just building a beautiful world every day, creating the world I want to live in.”

Mari Cordes


Mari Cordes: Nurse, Legislator, Activist

It doesn’t take long to realize that Mari Cordes, 59, cares deeply—about the planet, about health care, about inequality—and as a result she spends much of her time taking decisive action to make a difference as an activist, a nurse, and a state legislator. You can see the passion in her eyes, which fill with tears when she addresses topics she holds close to her heart.

She has moments, like we all do, when she feels angry and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of pressing issues demanding our attention: “Sometimes I do need to stay home, be quiet with the woods around me and feel the despair, and then I need to get up again and I need to keep going. We might be angry, but we are righteously angry, and that sense of power within that is grieving and witnessing huge and potentially catastrophic change needs to come together in community so that we can help each other move forward. As tough as it can be, I have to continue to join in community in this work knowing that I am very likely not going to see the effect in my lifetime.”

Cordes’s resilience was born out of a challenging childhood: “I didn’t realize how hard my childhood was because I was busy surviving abuse and neglect. I developed some amazing constructive coping skills. My father was an abusive alcoholic, and my mother had borderline personality disorder. A friend of hers, Corky, came to live with us when I was eight. My brother and I credit her with saving our lives. Yet she also had her own trauma and as a result had easily accessible anger. I learned quite young how to be the mediator, peace keeper, and therapist.”

Yet in addition to those early challenges, Cordes also experienced an incredibly adventurous childhood: “I grew up learning that being an adventurous woman was wonderful. We spent a lot of time in the wilderness in Canada and in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. I know I ended up in Vermont because it was also a wild place. People here are much more closely connected to the land and where their food comes from. That is deeply important to me; it feels very wedded to my heart and soul.”

Cordes has never felt constricted by gender stereotypes: “I was the first female mason tender for an employer in Rochester, Michigan. I believe he hired me on a whim to see if it would work. I thrived. I have a strong body, and working outside mixing mud and lifting bricks was good for me. Corky also taught me how to use equipment. If I had a problem with the car, I could lift up the hood, change the oil, and change the tires. I learned how to back up a trailer and how to fish and hunt. That was my norm. The things I chose to do were not gender typical.”

Cordes joined her first husband on his organic vegetable farm in Greensboro, Vermont, where they raised their two daughters. It was here that Cordes first began the deep and necessary work to heal from her early childhood trauma. “It wasn’t until I had given birth to my second daughter that the gates opened. An acupuncturist I went to called it a kundalini awakening. One day after my second daughter was born, it felt like there was an opening for all of the stuff that I had been dealing with from my childhood to come out … all I really needed to do was move the energy of my rage, my grief, my pain from my childhood out, and transform it. I am so grateful for that period of time because it’s as if there was a hidden hand that guided me to Greensboro and planted me there. That move opened the door to a lot of healing, a lot of pain, and a lot of opportunity. If I hadn’t done that, then the work that I am doing now as a nurse, as an activist, as a legislator, would not be grounded in a healthy way. It would be grounded in the wound of my childhood rather than the growth of what I have learned.”

Once she developed skills in the medical profession and used that impulse to improve the work environment for her colleagues, organizing a nurses’ union seemed like a logical next step. There were so many things that were wrong in the day-to-day practice of being a nurse and being a patient that needed fixing.

“Becoming a founding organizer for our union was the first concrete example I had of the power of people joining together to create change. I eventually became the second union president. I’m proud of organizing more nurse colleagues to become empowered and find their voices. One of my most rewarding experiences was working to respond to the earthquake in Haiti. We were there a little more than a week after the earthquake. Jennifer Henry, the first union president, organized the effort, and then I had the opportunity to take the lead. We sent a fresh team every week for six months. Again, this was a concrete example of people coming together to solve problems.”

Cordes recently took her problem-solving skills to the next level by running for public office. “I was asked to run for office by three different people three different times. This is often the case for women; it isn’t immediately obvious to them that they could run, let alone get elected and serve in public office. I worried that I’d have to let go of my grassroots work, but I’ve been participating in Nonviolent Direct Action since the 2016 election—such as interrupting the Kavanaugh hearings—and I know that for now I can still do both. I’m motivated to be in a bridge position as part of a solid group of people willing to make change from within, and we have that in the state house—with climate change, gender justice, and racial justice. There are core groups of people who are willing to create change to bring fire to that institution. I have developed great resilience in my lifetime, in large part because adults showed up for me when I needed them. I want to make sure that we have those adults in all of our communities so that everyone is able to live their fullest lives.”

She grows thoughtful as she thinks about advice she would offer to women today: “Believe the fire in your heart and your belly. Join together. Stand up. Rise up. We need each other more than ever. We need to listen to the people who have been most harmed by historical oppression and by oppression that’s happening now. Organize. Get out of your comfort zone. Way out. I am so grateful for my sense of adventure. We need to be exposed to other ways of life; we need to see the rest of the world. That is the test that we’re here for—how we treat one another—how we treat other beings. That is what we’re being asked to repair.”


Katrina Ducharme and fellow officer


Katrina Ducharme: State Trooper, Educator

Katrina Ducharme is a commanding presence in her Vermont state trooper uniform. Her steady gaze, firm grip, and strong voice exact respect. If you think her small frame might prevent her from performing at 100 percent, think again. She serves on the Vermont State Police Crisis Negotiation Unit, and she is also a use-of-force instructor: “I always wanted to follow my passion into Criminal Justice, but so many people told me I couldn’t do it—that I wasn’t big enough. I have been the same height and weight since eighth grade—4’ 11” and 100 pounds. I’m not a very big person. Some people said this is a male’s field. Some said I was too small. Some said they would never find a uniform that would fit me. Even my mom had concerns, but she always supported me, telling me ‘I want you to pursue what you want to do.’”

Ducharme, who is now 28, was born in Hyderabad, India. She was adopted, as was her sister, who was born in Calcutta: “My mom was a corrections officer and a single parent. I was almost 4 when I came over to the US. I grew up in Plattsburgh, New York, where I attended K-12 and then studied criminal justice and sociology in college. I was hired by the Williston Police Department in September of 2014 and attended full-time academy starting in February of 2015. I graduated in May with my full-time certification. I was the only female in an all-male department, but they were very welcoming. In fact, they inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Even though she enjoyed working for the Williston Police Department and later for Brandon PD, her ultimate goal was to become a trooper: “Getting through pre-basic is my proudest moment. You have classes, but because you are being yelled at so much, you have no idea what the classes are about. You have to understand that everything is done for a reason. Instead of working as an individual, you learn to work together as a group. It’s mentally and physically demanding. In pre-basic, we started with four females. By the end, two made it through. Once I got my diploma, I knew I could handle anything that came my way.”

Ducharme completed her field training with Rutland Barracks, where she is now employed as a road trooper. During training she rode with a field training officer to get familiar with the area and to learn firsthand how to handle cases: “Unlike working for a police department where you have your backup right next to you, as a trooper you are on your own. You have to learn to make good decisions. You have to follow the law, be fair, and be concise every time. Field Training included approximately 36 shifts. By Halloween, I was given my own vehicle and was responding to calls on my own: 436 is my unit number. I am the only female road trooper in the Rutland Barracks. I’m also the only female Indian state trooper.”

As the largest professional agency in the state, the Vermont state troopers provide numerous professional development opportunities. Ducharme holds a number of special certifications, including one as a drug recognition expert: “There are 57 of us. We are called in when suspected DUI suspects may be impaired by something other than alcohol. We do a comprehensive evaluation, which includes taking vitals and pulse, as well as noting how they are acting, what they are saying, their body language, and how they perform on a divided-attention task. A toxicology report then tells us what is in their system. When a case goes to jury trial, I can testify as an expert witness rather than a lay witness. I can testify as to how drugs affect your body.”

As a member of the Vermont State Police Crisis Negotiation Unit, Ducharme can find herself in the role of negotiator, coach, or team leader when serving high-risk warrants or dealing with barricaded subjects. The training for this unit includes training by the FBI, which takes place at the Training Academy in Pittsford: “I use what I learned in this training every single day. People call when they are in crisis, and this training has provided me with tools to communicate more effectively.”

In addition to working in high-risk situations, Ducharme enjoys spending time working with community members. As a child car seat technician, she teaches people how to put car seats in and out correctly: “People often don’t know how to correctly use a latch system rather than a seatbelt system. They also have questions regarding when to use a rear facing seat versus a front facing seat, or when to switch to a booster seat or regular seat belt. Doing community service is very important. I also read to kids and conduct safety days at elementary schools. I will stop in and have lunch with the kids at Sudbury Elementary School. I think kids like me because I’m their size, so I’m not as intimidating. Girls see me and think that they can be a trooper, too. I also do a lot of recruitment at Castleton University, and I participated in the Girls on the Run program there. It’s nice to live in the community I serve. I can be off-duty in the grocery store, and people will come up to me. It’s a good feeling to know that people feel that comfortable with me. People will thank me for helping them out. At the end of the day, I know I have helped someone, and that’s what I love to do.”

Another way that Ducharme conducts community outreach is through Troopers That Tweet, a social media team. She participates in this program with three other troopers from the Office of Professional Development. She also presents at Vermont Works for Women’s Women Can Do: Promoting STEM & Trades Careers, which is Vermont’s largest one-day career immersion experience for high school girls and gender nonconforming youth: “Last year I chose to do use of force and taught proper handcuffing procedures. Close to 900 young women cycled through all of the stations. I’m excited that they have asked me to come back again this year.”

Ducharme believes that she makes the biggest impact in her role as a use-of-force instructor: “There are three female use-of-force instructors for the state police: Sergeant Deb Munson in Derby, Trooper Hartman out of Williston, and me. When you have classes that are mostly male, it’s good for females just starting out to see other female use-of-force instructors. I get to see new officers, especially females, who start training with their heads down. Then I see them at graduation standing tall. It’s an incredible progression to watch.”

When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time on the lake canoeing with her dog and learning new skills so that she can work on the home she shares with her boyfriend: “I love Vermont. We’re now building an addition to the house. All of the wood is coming from the property, so I learned how to fell trees. I also learned how to tile. As a single parent, my mom always told me: ‘Don’t rely on someone else to do something for you. You have to know how to do it yourself.’ That has given me drive. I would give girls and women who are interested in law enforcement similar advice. If it’s something that you’re passionate about, find the courage inside yourself to try it. If you don’t like it, you can leave it, but you won’t know unless you try. Prepare yourself mentally and physically, and you’ll be fine.”


Peggy Luhrs

Peggy Luhrs: Activist, Radical Feminist

In thinking back on her first foray into feminism, Peggy Luhrs, now 74, points to being 14 years old and hanging out with her Catholic school friends at a local swimming hole during the summer before starting high school. They were talking about who might become president of the freshman class, and she wondered aloud if it might be one of them. That idea was quickly dismissed when someone pointed out that it couldn’t be one of them because the president was always a boy. “I remember being really annoyed,” she says.

Luhrs married at age 20, because at that time “that’s just what you did.” While living with her husband in New York City in the late 1960s, she started to learn more about feminism: “In college I had read Betty Friedan’s book [The Feminine Mystique], which I found interesting, but it hadn’t spoken to me that much. I heard about the Redstockings, but I didn’t join them then. I got pregnant, in part to keep my husband out of the draft. He was working for IBM then, and while we hoped to move back to the Catskills, IBM sent him to Burlington, Vermont. Coming from New York, I remember wondering where the city was as we drove into Burlington. IBM in New York City was more liberal than it was in Vermont. At work-related gatherings in Vermont, men could be found in one room talking guns while women were in another room talking babies. One time an IBM worker came to visit us at our house and left his wife in the car.”

During her pregnancy Luhrs searched for a female physician, but they were few and far between, so she ended up with a male doctor she did not know. As a result, her childbirth experience was traumatic. That experience, combined with the dawning realization that her own breast milk likely contained DDT that was harming her child, led her to social activism focused on changing the health-care culture.

“I worked on getting abortion legal in Vermont. The Women’s Political Caucus wouldn’t touch the issue of abortion, so a few of us had to form the Women’s Lobby of the Women’s Political Caucus. Ironically, we met at Trinity College. Vermont had done away with the abortion law they had and didn’t pass a new one. As a result, the state reverted to Common Law, where abortion was legal until the time of quickening. Many people didn’t even realize that was the previous determination for abortion. We also opened the Vermont Women’s Health Center and started Women Against Rape—a great group of women who learned about the existence of rape kits from an empathetic doctor at the hospital. We began getting calls about women being battered, and the first shelters opened. In the early days, before violence and harassment began to be recognized in the 1970s, I remember being told by priests and counselors that the most important thing was to keep the family together.”

The most personally empowering accomplishment Luhrs experienced as a young feminist was designing and building her four-bedroom house in Charlotte: “As a kid who built endless huts and tree houses, perhaps I should have studied architecture and not art, but few women did at that time. I ended up getting a roll of graph paper, and I designed a house with half an octagon two stories high and the rest sitting on a ledge, well sited in East Charlotte. This was while I was participating in a consciousness raising group and raising my toddler son, Justin, with my husband, who worked with me on the house when he was not at his IBM job. Building a house is a powerful way to build confidence. The fact that every lumber deliverer looked for the man who was in charge only increased my determination to fight for women’s liberation.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, long after Luhrs had come out as a lesbian, and even while the country itself was experiencing a conservative backlash, Vermont continued to make progress when it came to women’s rights: “We won some battles. There are more women doctors. People are getting better, more comprehensive care. There are more women lawyers. Lesbian feminism found a sexuality that isn’t phallically centered and that valued equality over dominance and submission. When Bernie Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Sue Gillis and I wrote a letter asking for revisions to the Mayor’s Council for Women. We got it changed to the Burlington Women’s Council. It was a wonderful luxury to be able to propose women-centered policies from 1985 to 1995. Women in the trades was one successful program, ensuring a job that would move a woman out of poverty. We also helped secure housing for single mothers where they could stay for two years.”

While Luhrs was working with the Burlington Women’s Council, she also taught ecology and geminism at the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College: “I think this is a thread back to my earliest awakening as a feminist and understanding that breast milk was contaminated with DDT. This program ran for a month in the summers, with classes four days a week attended by both graduate and undergraduate students. This was a wonderful place where various intellectuals, community organizers, and poets were visitors and contributors. Grace Paley always came and read her work.”

When she thinks about radical feminism today, there is a hint of sadness in her eyes and a tinge of disappointment in her voice. “Women were not and still are not a priority. Women’s health isn’t a priority. We live in a country that doesn’t like women and children. Instead, we value corporate culture. Patriarchy wants us to run around in circles so that we can’t organize and rebel. It’s hard because I feel like we did make progress, and then I watched them take the word women out of it. By taking the woman out, they took the agent out. I find that infuriating. I only recently realized how ‘disappeared’ radical feminism was. We had made some progress, but now we have lost so much and lost it so quickly. What we haven’t been able to do is change societal values to value care. And we lost the battle on objectification. Blame backlash, media, social media, pornography—what we’re getting is whatever we get when we refuse men—entitled rage. In March I went to secret radical feminist conference. I had to go to one hotel to meet the people who were organizing it to find out where the conference was. All of the culture we built is gone.”

When asked what we can do to recapture that positive momentum, she becomes more animated and the excitement reappears on her face: “The best thing I can do is go to YouTube and talk about radical feminism. We can work to bring back consciousness raising groups and meet face-to-face. Men should be doing this, too. Look at how gender oppresses them. They need to figure out their stake in this. Patriarchy is not making men’s lives better—except for those privileged few at the top. We need an autonomous women’s movement that dares to focus on women. We should be able to have spaces of our own. It doesn’t even have to be radical feminism, as radical I am. But it’s women willing to put women first. Yet today that is a radical notion! Feminism isn’t an easy thing. We don’t have the luxury for that. There’s no time. As for my journey, I have been pilloried in the press more than once, but I have met the most wonderful women, and it has been an interesting and worthy life I think.”


Linda Schadler

Linda Schadler: Scientist, Educator

Dr. Linda S. Schadler’s CV speaks for itself; she is currently the dean of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Vermont. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), she served as vice provost and dean of undergraduate education and the Russell Sage Professor in Materials Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering, as well as associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering.

Schadler graduated from Cornell University in 1985 with a BS in materials science and engineering and received a PhD in materials science and engineering in 1990 from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a former member of ASM International’s board of trustees and the National Materials Advisory Board and a fellow of the Materials Research Society and ASM International. Schadler served as the education and outreach coordinator for the National Science Foundation’s Center “Directed Assembly of Nanostructures” headquartered at Rensselaer. She is an associate editor for the Journal of Materials Research and has coauthored more than 170 journal publications, several book chapters, and one book.

And yet these tremendous accomplishments in and of themselves are not what makes her stand out in academia. The fact that she broke through gender barriers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) during the 1980s and 1990s, and did so on her own terms, is what makes her achievements truly remarkable.

The roots of her success can be traced back to her childhood. Her mother was a biology professor at Union College. Her father worked as a manager at General Electric,and had an advanced degree in materials science and engineering—the same field she chose to pursue. She grew up a self-identified tomboy and credits her parents for letting her be who she was while always placing new and intriguing opportunities in her path. She was raised in New York state where she attended environmental camps for a week in the summer: “I went to one of those camps for two years. The second year I got to stay a second week. They would choose applicants to stay, focusing on those who had tremendous interest. I did this right before high school, and it was an incredible confidence builder. I never questioned that I would go into a STEM field.”

She attended Cornell University as her parents had and spent the year after graduation and before graduate school working with her national sorority, traveling to 35 universities to teach leadership. That experience helped her learn that she needed to find balance between teaching and research, as she enjoyed both. She first created that balance at Drexel University, where she established her own research lab and funding while she also maintained a strong teaching presence.

Once she identified this balance as a priority, she worked to maintain it in subsequent positions, while also focusing on introducing STEM to children in the same way that she had been exposed to it—as something fun. As the education and outreach coordinator for the National Science Foundation’s Center “Directed Assembly of Nanostructures” at RPI, she was one of the executive producers for the Molecularium, a planetarium show that takes K–5 students on a magical musical adventure into the world of atoms and molecules. Children learn that “everything is made of atoms and molecules,” and they explore the three states of matter: “solids slow, liquids flow, gas is fast!” ( The Molecularium team also created a giant screen version of the program to reach middle school students. The program was translated into numerous foreign languages and reached tens of thousands of students across the globe: “Kids learned that everything is made out of atoms and molecules, so when they subsequently studied this material in school, they could already picture an atom and a molecule. They had a head start learning about science in a fun way, so they were not as intimidated when they got to the material in the classroom.”

This is certainly an effective strategy in making STEM as appealing to girls as it is to boys. However, while women now make up a greater percentage of STEM students than ever before, they still face significant challenges in both higher education and industry. According to the Society of Women Engineers, over 32 percent of women switch out of STEM degree programs in college. Only 30 percent of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still working in engineering 20 years later, and 30 percent of women who have left the engineering profession cite organizational climate as the reason (

When Schadler thinks back on her own experiences, she views the past through a different lens than when she was experiencing it: “I certainly had situations along the way that in hindsight I see as barriers. At the time I was a stubborn, bullheaded woman who wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. If you had asked me when I was 25 if I had encountered barriers, I would have said no because I wasn’t recognizing them at the time. Looking back, I can see them, like the high school teacher who said, ‘I can’t believe it, but Schadler got such-and-such a grade on the exam.’ Those comments were certainly undermining. In college I had great support, but grad school was very challenging.”

Yet she persevered and went on to become the first female tenured professor in the department at RPI and the first woman to be a chaired professor in the college. She received a National Science Foundation National Young Investigator award in 1994 and the ASM International Bradley Stoughton Award for Teaching in 1997. She also received a Dow Outstanding New Faculty member award from the American Society of Engineering Education in 1998—all remarkable achievements for anyone, but especially for a woman in STEM.

In examining women’s experiences today, Schadler believes that some women are not interested in STEM fields because they think STEM doesn’t allow for work-life balance. Yet she exemplifies that balance: “You can be really happy in your career and make contributions without sacrificing family life. While women are judged more harshly professionally, they also have the ability to put family first and career second if that is what they choose. If you clearly identify your priorities, come to terms with them, communicate them, and accept the consequences of those priorities, you can prove your worth and gain flexibility. The ultimate solution is not women adjusting to a broken system but systemic change that will accommodate the needs of a diverse workforce.”




Diane DeBella has spent over 20 years examining women’s issues as a writer, teacher, and speaker (