Overthrow the tyranny of low expectations

Overthrow the tyranny of low expectations

Singapore's first female engineering dean, Professor Janie Fouke, may have stepped down for "personal reasons" but the unstoppable trailblazer who became a mother of three at 20, then buried a son and battled cancer tells Susan Long how she intends to continue being a role model to women contemplating a career in engineering.

Two years ago, after an exhaustive search for a new engineering dean involving the consideration of more than 100 candidates, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) decided the best man for the job was a woman.

Professor Janie Fouke made history when she became the first woman to head NTU's engineering school, one of the world's largest by enrolment with more than 14,000 students.

The 62-year-old is no stranger to trailblazing. When she opted to study engineering back in the 1970s, it was considered a "man's job". Her parents objected, with her mother declaring: "Girls who go to engineering school wear blue jeans and have a slide rule on their belts."

At engineering graduate school, she was only one of two women in a sea of 100 men.

When she became the Dean of Engineering at Michigan State University in 1999, she was one of only five female deans in around 100 major engineering programmes in the United States.

She has spent much of her life battling stereotypes, the "tyranny of low expectations" and the entrenched old boys' network. She makes it her mission to help similarly inclined young women enter the engineering profession, advance in their careers and grow their own opportunities, like she did.

In July, she stepped down as NTU's engineering dean "for personal reasons". She declined to elaborate but it is understood she was brought in to enact change but felt unable to do so, due to internal constraints.

She remains a full professor with NTU. She has also been tasked to help strengthen links among the Global Alliance of Technological Universities, an NTU-initiated network of the world's top nine technological universities. This alliance aims to change the world through collaboration in science and engineering.

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