ASU engineering professor on her fifty-year fight for equality in education

Anderson-Rowland has dedicated her life to providing opportunities for women and minorities in engineering

Fighting stereotypes and striving for change, ASU Professor Mary Anderson-Rowland has swam upstream for fifty years, dedicating her life to leveling the playing field and providing opportunities for women, transfer students and underrepresented minorities in engineering and the sciences.

Anderson-Rowland, currently an associate professor of engineering, has been with ASU since the fall of 1966 and has since published over 220 works emphasizing women in engineering. 

She has won eleven national awards, and she started the (METS) program that supports women and minority students at community colleges interested in engineering. 

“Women and underrepresented minorities and transfer students are the largest untapped resources for engineers and computer scientists, which our nation needs," Anderson-Rowland said. 

The program's leadership, which consists of Anderson-Rowland and her colleague, Armando Antonio Rodriguez, go to community colleges and work to recruit for engineering.

“When we got this grant, and we started going out to community colleges, in most cases ... we were the first engineering professors to ever step foot on those campuses and the first engineering professors these students ever saw or talked to," Anderson-Rowland said. 

Rodriguez said that it's key to tap into groups without significant representation in engineering. 

“We both believe that every student is valuable and every student deserves someone who is going to try to help them fulfill their best, their full potential … that’s like the glue that has kept it going," he said.

The first woman in the engineering faculty at ASU, and the only one for 10 years after, Anderson-Rowland said she believes in students and fought for those nobody else believed in.

Anderson-Rowland showed through statistical evidence that upper-division transfer students coming in performed at the same level as juniors that began as freshman. 

“It stopped the conversation," she said. "I’m not saying I changed everybody’s mind. Some people may still think that (transfer students do not perform on the same level), they just don’t say it anymore.”

Dustin Plaas is a transfer student working on his Ph.D after going through the METS program. When he was transferring into ASU as a junior, the system labeled him as a sophomore by mistake, making him ineligible for the scholarship through METS. He was going to have to wait another year to go to ASU. 

Anderson-Rowland offered to personally write Plaas a check for him to go to school. 

“That’s the kind of faith she had in me to be successful," Plaas said. "(From Anderson-Rowland I learned) how to truly value people, (how to see) each individual's self worth and what each individual can bring to the table."

Anderson-Rowland at times has needed the same support she gives. 

She overcame stages three and four of ovarian cancer, a heart attack, a quadruple bypass surgery and a mitral valve prolapse. During this ten year period, she continued writing grants to fund scholarships and METS, published papers and won eight awards.

Anderson-Rowland retired but is still tying up her loose ends. She has stayed behind to help Rodriguez with a $5 million grant they received in September for scholarships to keep the program running. As she passes the program and moves into retirement, she said she plans to travel and continue to serve her community.

“I’m just proud she puts the 'Rowland' on her plaques," said her husband, Jim Rowland. 


Reach the reporter at madison.arnold.1@asu.edu or follow @madisionC_arnold on Twitter.

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