Brunet receives award for support of women in engineering

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By Shawn Adderly, ECE ILLINOIS
February 22, 2011

  • ECE Lecturer Marie-Christine Brunet received the Amy L. Devine Award from the University's chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon.
  • Brunet was recognized for her exceptional teaching abilities and for providing support to women in engineering.
  • Brunet regularly holds additional study sessions in order to provide female students the opportunity to ask questions in a small group setting without feeling intimidated.

Marie-Christine  Brunet
Marie-Christine Brunet

ECE Lecturer and chief undergraduate advisor Marie-Christine Brunet was named the Fall 2010 recipient of the Amy L. Devine Award. The award was presented by the University’s chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon, a professional and social engineering sorority, in recognition of Brunet’s contributions to the advancement of women in engineering and for being an outstanding professor in ECE.

“It’s nice to get recognized for something you enjoy doing,” Brunet said. “I enjoy teaching and working with my students and encouraging them in any way that I can.”

Brunet said she was particular touched by the way the award was presented to her.

“After a busy afternoon of advising students during the first week of the semester, I was tired,” she said. “Then all of a sudden Sonam Patel walks in my office with flowers and a certificate explaining that I just won an award. It really made my day.”

Patel, the award chair for Alpha Omega Epsilon, said several women in her sorority felt that Brunet was the best candidate for the Amy L. Devine Award for the work she does in the ECE Department, and for other women in engineering programs.

“Professor Brunet has demonstrated our ideals by creating an interest in engineering among women and promoting self-confidence, professionalism, and motivation among female engineers of all curricula,” Patel said.

Patel said that Brunet is also being recognized for holding additional group study sessions for female students in ECE 110, and for helping Alpha Omega Epsilon reach out to women interested in math and science by leading a “mock” engineering lecture. The lectures, geared towards female high school seniors admitted to the University, gives attendees an idea of what an engineering lecture is like.

ECE Lecturer and chief undergraduate advisor Marie-Christine Brunet (left) was presented the Amy L. Devine Award by Sonam Patel of Alpha Omega Epsilon engineering sorority.
ECE Lecturer and chief undergraduate advisor Marie-Christine Brunet (left) was presented the Amy L. Devine Award by Sonam Patel of Alpha Omega Epsilon engineering sorority.

Since the fall of 2005 Brunet has been leading additional review sessions for women in the ECE 110 in order to enable them to ask questions about course material without feeling intimidated, as well as to meet other women in the class. Brunet said she established these review sessions after hearing from some female students that they were intimidated by asking questions in a large lecture, or felt that they were not given the same attention as their male counterparts by a teaching assistant during lab hours.

“I realized that I need to do more than just learn the names of my students, especially the typical 10% of female students in ECE 110,” she said. “I needed to create a safe environment where my students could address their concerns.”

Although Brunet said she doesn’t keep statistics on whether this has helped retention of women in engineering, she said that many female students have expressed their gratitude for the extra study sessions.

Interestingly enough, Brunet said that has never felt intimidated as an engineering student or faculty member, but she does recall one particular case of sexism while she was a PhD student in France working at IBM back in the late 1980s.

When Brunet was about to give a talk on her research at a seminar, a group of mostly male engineers that were planning on listening to the seminar arrived, and asked if she could get them coffee.

“And I replied no, not really, but I did inform them that the coffee shop was right around the corner. And they were very puzzled as to why the secretary was not going to run out and get them coffee,” Brunet said.

It was not until Brunet was about to begin her talk that they realized that she was actually one of the presenters they were going to hear, not a secretary.

“All those guys in the audience were wide eyed, when they realized I was one of the speakers,” Brunet said. “They practically slept through all the other presentations, but when it was my turn, they paid attention, and asked the most questions.”

Women engineers will not necessarily face situations in their careers similar to Brunet’s, but Brunet hopes her efforts will give them the confidence to face whatever challenges they may encounter. And it is these efforts that Alpha Omega Epsilon recognized with their award.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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