Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, June 07 2011
Snapshot: Jill S. Tietjen
Jill S. Tietjen is president and CEO of Technically Speaking Inc. She has spent more than 30 years in the electric utility industry, and she provides planning consulting services to electric utilities and organizations serving the electric utility industry. Tietjen serves as an expert witness before public utility commissions and other government agencies. Her technical papers have been published in Public Utilities Fortnightly andTransmission and Distribution magazines. She has coauthored several Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) papers and served as an electrical engineering program accreditation facilitator on behalf of IEEE.
Her previous employers include the University of Colorado at Boulder, Stone & Webster Management Consultants, Hagler Bailly Consulting, Mobil Oil Corp.’s mining and coal division, and Duke Power Co. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s in applied mathematics (minor in electrical engineering) and received her MBA from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
Tietjen regularly speaks about women in engineering, historical women in engineering and science, and leadership topics. Her book, Her Story: A Timeline of Women Who Changed America (HarperCollins, 2008) is a local bestseller.
She is a registered professional engineer in Colorado where she lives with her husband, David, and cat, Robbie.
Womenetics: You give speeches about nontraditional careers for women. You obviously are in one of these careers. How did you decide to become an engineer?
Jill Tietjen: I didn’t know that I wanted to be an engineer. I was good in math and had taken a fair amount of science, but no one suggested to me that I consider engineering as a career. I entered the University of Virginia as a mathematics major. Halfway through my first semester, I realized that I was in the wrong place and went to see the dean of the Engineering School to make the arrangements to transfer to engineering. It is because of this lack of encouragement (my high school guidance counselor said I shouldn’t even bother applying to the University of Virginia) that I have spent more than 30 years of my life encouraging young women to pursue technical careers, much of that through my activities in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), of which I am a past national president.
Womenetics: What is it about electrical engineering that appeals to you?
Tietjen: Engineers solve problems, actually quite creatively. I love to solve puzzles, putting all of the pieces together. That is what I get to do. My job is to ensure that power plants are built to provide electricity to customers, and I am continuously solving problems in order to do that and putting puzzles together one piece at a time.
Womenetics: What advice would you give to young women interested in making engineering their career?
Tietjen: Go for it! Engineers make the world work. Think of your day without electricity, without clean water, without transportation, without communication systems. Engineers add tremendous value to the world. Making a difference in the world is why I support Engineers Without Borders. Bringing conveyance systems, pipes, and pumps to villages around the world means that the women and girls no longer have to serve as water mules; the girls get to go to school. Engineers Without Borders also brings water filtration systems to villages, which decreases infant mortality and raises the quality of living for everyone in the village. Engineers change our world.
Womenetics: Through Technically Speaking, you provide consulting services and are a speaker. How did you learn to become a speaker?
Tietjen: I was initially trained as a speaker by my first employer, Duke Power Co. I was a member of the Duke Power’s speaker’s bureau and gave talks on nuclear power, energy conservation, and other utility-related topics. I now serve as an expert witness and have received hours of training during the course of witness preparation prior to the hearings at which I testify.
Womenetics: Who was most influential in your life?
Tietjen: My first response to this question is my father. He had high expectations and wanted both of his daughters, as well as his two sons, to be successful in life. I also must credit my mother. Her daughters are the embodiment of her feminist aspirations: one an engineer and the other a research scientist. My parents raised all four of us to do our personal best.
Womenetics: Why do you write books about historical women?
Tietjen: Because it has become my life passion to tell the stories of great women and to change the perspective of women worldwide.
But, I think the question you were asking is “How does an electrical engineer end up writing books about historical women?” It all started in 1987 with an essay contest on great women in engineering and science. When my Society of Women Engineers’ colleague Alexis Swoboda brought back to Colorado from the national convention the idea for an essay contest as an outreach program, I only knew one historical woman in engineering and science from anywhere in the world. We needed to do a lot of research to prepare for, and then to judge, essays from sixth graders across Colorado and Wyoming. I learned so much.
That research led to my first successful nomination for a national award: Admiral Grace Murray Hopper’s receipt of the National Medal of Technology in 1991. Then, Alexis found the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and we decided that there was a gap; we needed to nominate scientific and technical women to the hall. Young women needed scientific and technical role models as well as abolitionists, suffragists, politicians, and so forth. My first successful nomination to the hall was of Admiral Hopper in 1994.
Then, SWE headquarters forwarded me a letter from a woman named Betty Reynolds who was writing a book on women’s entry into the nontraditional professions of law, medicine, engineering, and accounting. Betty wanted some information. The very short version of that story was that a few years later, Betty and I (I became a coauthor) had three books published in the Setting the Record Straight series.
By the time I was introduced to my coauthor Charlotte Waisman in 2003, we both had about 300 women that we had “collected.” It was a natural for me to collaborate with her on our bestselling book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America that features more than 850 women in U.S. history from 1587 to 2007 in a vivid visual timeline format across all fields of endeavor and is an incredibly inclusive book. We were delighted when (former Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright agreed to write the foreword.
One never knows what will happen when a seed is planted. The harvest can be very bountiful.
Womenetics: I’ve heard that you have made it your life's work to nominate women for awards? Why is nominating women for awards so important to you?
Tietjen: One of my first successful nominations was Admiral Hopper for the National Medal of Technology. She was very ill at the time, and she asked me to receive that medal on her behalf from the first President Bush. I did receive it for her, in the Rose Garden, and I attended all of the associated festivities on her behalf as well. She was the first individual woman to receive that medal. She was also my first successful nomination to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
I realized that not only did I enjoy preparing the nominations (another puzzle of sorts), but that I was quite good at it. In addition, other people weren’t doing it and it needed to be done. I have now nominated 21 women (more than anyone else in the country) to the National Women’s Hall of Fame (including four women who will be inducted in 2011), and I sit on its board of directors. I have trained a number of friends and colleagues to prepare nominations, and, much to my surprise, one of those nominations that was successful was my nomination to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. I was inducted in 2010.
It is fun. In general, men don’t nominate women for awards, and there are many women who deserve to be recognized for their amazing accomplishments. Women through history are often invisible, ignored, or marginalized. I can stop that from happening. I can help write women back into history.
Two questions that I often ask are “If not me, who?” and “Why not me?” Preparing the nominations and ensuring that women are recognized for their accomplishments gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.
Womenetics: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Tietjen: I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I changed my mind so many times, and I don’t think any one (and certainly not all three) of author, speaker, and electrical engineer (how I am always introduced these days) ever made it on the list.
Womenetics: So what do women engineers like you do for fun?
Tietjen: I don’t know that many women engineers are like me. I read, do needlework (counted cross stitch, needlepoint, knit, and crochet), play tennis, go the theater, ballet, and opera, and travel.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.