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Explore and connect widely: Faculty alumnae reflect

By Molly Sharlach
Excerpt from Office of Engineering Communications 

For a half century, women have played leading roles in research, teaching and innovation at Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Today, our faculty also includes women who completed their graduate or undergraduate degrees in engineering at Princeton. Spanning different disciplines and generations, each of them has made outstanding contributions in her respective field, and each exemplifies Princeton’s traditions of fundamental research and engineering in the service of humanity.

This year, we celebrate Women’s History Month and the 100th anniversary of Princeton’s engineering school by featuring stories, perspectives and insights from three Princeton Engineering alumnae:

Jennifer Rexford, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor in Engineering and a 1991 B.S.E. graduate; 
Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering and a 2001 Ph.D. graduate; and
Ning Lin, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a 2010 Ph.D. graduate.

Jennifer Rexford is the chair of the Department of Computer Science and the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering. She received a B.S.E. in electrical engineering from Princeton, and master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Michigan. Rexford joined the Princeton faculty in 2005 after eight and a half years at AT&T Research.

Q. What reflections would you share from your time as an undergraduate at Princeton?

A. I decided to attend Princeton because I wanted the combination of a great engineering school and a great liberal arts education, while also being part of a small, close-knit community. That really narrowed down my choices! Another aspect of Princeton I only came to appreciate later was the opportunity to do research with the faculty. In pursuing my independent work projects in my junior and senior years, I fell in love with doing research, and that put me on the professional path I’ve followed ever since.

While I truly appreciate my engineering education and my overall Princeton experience, I did find the two somewhat disjointed. These days, it’s much more integrated with the rest of the University, with many students taking engineering courses, getting involved in activities hosted by the Keller Center [for Innovation in Engineering Education] and the Center for Information Technology Policy, and more. I think that’s a big win for Princeton students in general, whether engineering majors or not.

During my junior year, the campus was celebrating the 20th anniversary of coeducation at Princeton. My then-roommate Yvonne Ng ’91 and I wanted to hear the stories of the women engineering students at Princeton, and particularly the early trailblazers. We embarked on a labor of love that became the book “She’s an Engineer? Princeton Alumnae Reflect”. It became a way for us to understand the experiences of women as engineering students and the place of engineering at Princeton.

Q. What’s most exciting about your research now?

A. My research focuses on computer networking, and particularly the internet. I have long been excited about how computer science in general, and the internet in particular, lower the barriers to innovation — and enable a wider range of people to see their ideas flourish. In my own research, I am excited about making the underlying network infrastructure more programmable, so the internet can more easily evolve to be more secure, reliable and performant in the years ahead.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

A. I would encourage engineering students, whether at Princeton or elsewhere, to take advantage of every opportunity to take courses in the humanities and social sciences, not only to gain broad perspective or to hone your thinking and writing skills, but also because these intellectual pursuits are fascinating. I would also encourage students to resist the sense that they need to pick one passion or career over another. So often, we can find ways to combine our interests, and often engineering can offer a surprisingly relevant lens to topics that seem far afield.

Finally, I would encourage aspiring engineers to seek out mentors, whether among the faculty, practitioners, or more senior students and colleagues, and to realize that they can be wonderful mentors themselves, much earlier in their careers than they might realize.

Click here to read the stories from Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo and Ning Lin.

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