Three Generations of Women in Technology

Involved and Inspired

While women are still a minority in many technology-related careers they made up 26 percent of mathematical and computer scientists and 11 percent of engineers in 2007 they have always had a presence in the education programs at Pennsylvania College of Technology and its predecessors, Williamsport Technical Institute and Williamsport Area Community College, and their influence has been felt in the workforce. From filling assembly lines on the home front during World War II to making a mark in the energy industry, One College Avenue profiles three of the many alumnae who have successfully navigated less-traditional career paths.

Irma Logan, '41, operates a milling machine at Lycoming Engines in 1943. Photo courtesy of Lycoming Engines
Jeanette Lukens, '80, pulls a publication off the press at Webb Communications. Photo by Larry Kauffman
Sara Rust, '06, turns a valve while monitoring equipment at the 10-story Brunner Island power plant. Photo courtesy of Sara Rust

"I ended up being one of the first women hired at Lycoming Engines."

"Five years ago, I became a partner in the business."

"It's been great to be able to prove to the skeptics and to myself that I can do it."

‘Piston Packin’ Mama’ – 1941 Grad One of First Women Hired to Help Make Tanks for War Effort, by Jim Finkler, annual giving officer

Irma Deitrich Logan was already well on her way to becoming a machinist (Machine Tool Technology) at Williamsport Technical Institute when America’s involvement in World War II began on Dec. 7, 1941.

“I graduated from Weatherly High School in 1939,” said Logan. “My brother was in a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp near Williamsport. He said I should move up there, that I could probably find a job.”

Logan with instructor Fred Shearer. After taking machining courses at Williamsport Technical Institute, she helped make pistons for tank engines at Lycoming Engines to support World War II. Photo courtesy of Irma LoganShe did find work, at a silk mill in Montoursville. Then, near the end of 1940, she enrolled in the machining program at W.T.I. “I worked at the silk mill from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., and then I went to Williamsport Tech from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.,” said Logan.

She had several hundred hours of training completed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the country into war and drawing men with industrial trade skills into the military just as industries were gearing up for wartime production. “I was familiar with the machines and safety,” said Logan, “and I ended up being one of the first women hired at Lycoming Engines because of my hours at Tech.”

“‘Piston-packin’ Mamas,’ that’s what they called us,” she said of the 20 women who, along with 10 men, were on the line making pistons for tank engines.

Logan said one memory from her time at Lycoming Engines during World War II that stands out is the day of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral in April 1945. “All of the machines were stopped, and we bowed our heads for a moment of silent prayer,” she said. “It was a very sad and moving experience.”

She worked at Lycoming Engines until the end of the war, when she married Randall Logan. She stayed at home to raise a family that has carried its legacy at the school through three generations. Irma’s son Gary C. Logan graduated from the machinist general major at Williamsport Area Community College in 1977 and is now a machinist at Lycoming Engines; her son Dennis C. Logan is a part-time reading instructor at Penn College and a full-time middle school teacher in Williamsport; her granddaughters Andrea and Larissa Logan both graduated from the practical nursing major at Penn College; and her granddaughter Erica Logan is assistant women’s basketball coach and was a top-ranked member of Penn College’s tennis team when she was a student, winning the Penn State University Athletic Conference Women’s Singles championship in Spring 2009.

Logan said all of those years away from the factory while she raised her family did not take away her skills as a machinist.

“My husband was about 12 years older than me, and when he retired, I got out my tools and went back to work at Lycoming Engines.”

She stepped right back onto the factory floor, working on the rod line and the crankshaft line, and was there for another 13 years before she also retired.

Logan is proud to say that she is still active at the age of 88, including volunteering three days a week at the Williamsport Hospital & Medical Center. She said she is proud of her education at W.T.I. and her opportunities to put that education to work, especially as part of the home-front efforts to win World War II.

Far-Sighted – Graduate Journeys From Accounting Clerk to Partner/Owner by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue

In more than a quarter century at a Williamsport-based commercial printer, Jeanette Lukens saw a transformation in the industry – and in her career.

A 1980 graduate of Williamsport Area Community College who earned an associate degree in accounting, she parlayed her degree – by continually expanding her knowledge of the company – to become a partner/owner at Webb Communications, just a few steps from Penn College’s main campus.

Now director of operations, the Williamsport native credits the college with helping her find her place in the printing industry by advising her of an opening for an accounting clerk in the Grit Publishing Co.’s business office.

Lukens is an owner/partner and director of operations at commercial printer Webb Communications, where she began working as an accounting clerk. Photo by Larry Kauffman“W.A.C.C. was excellent with correspondence of job opportunities,” she said.

The company printed the Grit, the Williamsport-born national Sunday newspaper that, at its peak, sold 1.5 million copies each week. The publication is now owned by Ogden Newspapers and produced in Topeka, Kan.

The Grit’s mammoth three-story HOE offset web press – made in Germany, assembled in New York City and delivered to the Grit’s new printing facility on Maynard Street in 1962 – was one of the first in the nation to print a four-color newspaper photo. The press still whirrs, producing 40,000 copies an hour.

From her position in Grit’s Third Street business office, Lukens was promoted to purchasing agent and later became office manager, performing all the financial functions for the printing plant, which later became Webb Communications.

“Getting more involved with customers and growing business, my title changed to operations manager, and five years ago, I became a partner in the business,” she said.

Lukens’ position as director of operations requires intimate knowledge of each step in the printing process as she interacts with customers. She takes their calls, plans the most cost-effective production method for their job – including which of the company’s presses and which type of stock to use, how to trim and stitch their “books,” and the most efficient mailing option – determines billing, and ensures they remain happy.

It means keeping up with new technology and processes in “prepress operations,” which evolved during Lukens career from an in-house typesetter keying each line of print on a Linotype machine, to desktop publishing software that allows Webb Communications to accept printing jobs from several states away just as easily as it could from a client down the street.

“We can do now on a 24-hour shift with three people what used to take a room full of people behind light tables,” Lukens said.

Taking charge of customer service for a printing company is demanding.

“Of course, everyone wants to give (their materials) to you tomorrow and get it back yesterday,” she said.

It frequently requires overtime and odd hours for Lukens to perform press checks and remain accountable to the company’s clients, but the vivacious working mom and her husband, Randy – also a business owner – make sure they take an active part in their two athletic children’s busy lives.

“My husband has been very encouraging for me and my career,” she said.

Lukens also remains involved in the Penn College campus, where she serves on the Graphic Communication Management Advisory Committee. Advisory committees are made up of industry representatives who meet annually with program faculty and deans to help ensure the college’s degrees meet industry demand. In addition to the yearly meetings, Lukens participates in mock interviews – giving students experience with meeting professionals in the graphics field – and she offers class tours of Webb Communications each year.

“Being able to visit printing facilities and talk with the managers of those companies provides tremendous insights for students,” said James P. Lentz, associate professor of printing and publishing technology.

Energy Star – Alumna Keeps Power Flowing in Southcentral PA by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue

Sara Rust is the first – and thus far, the only – woman to graduate from Pennsylvania College of Technology’s electric power generation major.

A 2006 associate-degree graduate, she is one of six women in her 80-person department at PPL’s Brunner Island power plant in York Haven, where she is a plant equipment operator.

“When I started three years ago, I was the third woman in my department,” Rust said. “It’s definitely a growing area of interest for women as we realize that we are capable of keeping up with the demands of such a male-dominated work environment.”

Rust is one of 80 plant equipment operators at PPL's Brunner Island power plant in York Haven. Photo courtesy of Sara RustThe 10-story plant burns more than 3 million tons of coal each year and produces 1,483 megawatts of power. As a plant equipment operator, Rust monitors pumps, motors, temperatures and pressures and makes appropriate adjustments to keep the plant operating. It often requires swift, smart decisions to keep a unit running – and electricity flowing smoothly to homes and businesses – and Rust said someone without her education would need years of experience in the field to learn all the functions of her position.

Nonetheless, her education continues.

“The thing I enjoy the most is that there’s constantly something new to learn,” Rust said. “There’s never any time to get bored or get complacent, because the work environment changes so rapidly. It can change drastically just based on whether it’s cold or raining outside.

“There is also a lot of new equipment being added and upgrades being done to old equipment, so I’m often finding myself refamiliarizing myself with equipment that I’ve already learned. I love that my mind is constantly being stimulated and that there’s always something new to take in.”

Among the changes, Rust is training to operate a new scrubber system that, according to PPL, removes 97 percent of the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions. The plant is also installing cooling towers designed to decrease thermal pollution in the nearby Susquehanna River.

“I am in the process of learning how to operate the scrubber controls, and the cooling towers will be tied in with that once they’re in service,” she said.

The wide need for such upgrades to the nation’s energy infrastructure, coupled with the deregulation of the power industry, promise plenty of work for technicians with Rust’s qualifications.

A plant equipment operator’s job can be physically demanding.

“You’re often working in extreme heat or cold, out in the rain or snow; you name it, we’re in it,” she said.

Twelve-hour shifts that provide the plant with round-the-clock coverage but often mean missing holidays and other family gatherings are another challenge. (“People don’t stop using electricity just because it’s Christmas, so we can’t stop making it,” Rust said.)

“Aside from all that, it has been very rewarding. It’s been great to be able to prove to the skeptics – and to myself – that I can do it,” she said. “It’s also been great to see myself grow in my knowledge and abilities and to in turn be able to help other new operators as they start through their training.” ■

Hot and Cold – Alumna Designing the HVAC Career of Her Dreams by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue

Uncommon as her career choice may be among women, Tiffany L. Madara, ’08, has found a way to do what she set out to do in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry.

“I really enjoy the engineering side of HVAC,” Madara said while still a student in Pennsylvania College of Technology’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning bachelor-degree major. “I want to be the one behind the designs, not the one installing them. I want to design where the ducts go and what system to install in the buildings. I plan on designing systems for new commercial buildings in the future.”

Tiffany Madara, '08, is the only female designer/estimator at Climate Control Co. in Glenwood Springs, Colo., where she designs HVAC systems. Photo courtesy of Tiffany L. MadaraEven before graduating, she found a job that would allow her to fulfill those goals. A designer/estimator for Climate Control Co. in Glenwood Springs, Colo., Madara was recruited for the position at a Career Fair on the college’s campus in March 2008, two months before her graduation.

“I am happy with my career decision so far. I enjoy being able to use my creativity,” she said. “I also like that every day is something different; I never have the same challenge.”

Madara encounters new innovations in HVAC every day as equipment becomes more energy-efficient, and she incorporates the new technology into her system designs.

Just two years out of college, Madara is impressed to look back at how much she has learned already.

“I was surprised that, for as much as I knew about HVAC, there was even more that I didn’t know yet – but I’m learning every day,” she said.

Madara chose her career path as a freshman at Columbia-Montour Area Vocational Technical School, when she had the opportunity to “try out” four areas of study over the course of the year. Already set on three, she needed a fourth, and a friend taking HVAC courses suggested she try that out for a quarter.

“I did, and I enjoyed doing it, so I never left!” she said.

She was not deterred by the fact that she had no female classmates in her major in high school or at Penn College. She still does not work with any female designer/estimators.

“Almost everyone I meet raises their eyebrows: Seriously, a young woman in a career predominantly run by men? I enjoy explaining how I got where I am and why I chose this line of work,” she said.

She noticed some reluctance during her job search.

“It was challenging, because there are many men that don’t want to accept women in this line of work,” she said. “I was definitely treated different than the men in my major when I attended job fairs.

“It is rewarding at the same time, though, because being a woman helps you stand out from everyone else applying for the same job.”

Looking Back

Glen F. Getchen, now faculty emeritus, instructs a woman in the machine shop during a course offered through SEDA. Photo courtesy of Penn College Archives and Special Collections Judy Mingle was among 13 women and five men who enrolled in one of several four-month courses to learn the machining trade. Photo courtesy of Penn College Archives and Special Collections Joyce Sanders works at a machine in the Machining Technologies Center during one of several installments of the course, offered to community members looking for better employment opportunities. Photo courtesy of Penn College Archives and Special Collections Women taking a SEDA-sponsored machining course at Penn College predecessor Williamsport Area Community College in 1980 reflect on the reactions they receive from friends and family, their reasons for taking a leap in a new direction, and what they gained from the experience.

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