Deborah Limb, '88, '99, director of structures engineering at Boeing Commercial Airlines, returned to campus May 9 to deliver a talk on "My Journey in the World of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math."
In a presentation that was equal parts biographical, technical and motivational-with even a little theology and a whole lot of comedy sprinkled throughout-Limb encouraged the SU students in attendance to do more than just "click through life."
"Your career is remarkably short," she said. "What are you going to do with it? How are you going to matter to the world?...If you want to be great in STEM, think bigger than your own assignment."
Deeply committed to her alma mater, Limb has served on the College of Science and Engineering Advisory Board and has facilitated many hands-on opportunities for SU students to work on projects at Boeing through the Project Center. Last month she received the 2013 Alumni Professional Achievement Award during SU's Alumni Awards celebration.
Limb's presentation to a capacity crowd in Bannan Auditorium was the first in an annual seminar series titled "Distinguished Women in STEM Careers." The series is part of a program supported by a Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Undergraduate Research Scholars grant the college received from the Henry Luce Foundation. "The primary goal of this program is to provide multi-year undergraduate research awards to women chosen from those disciplines that have had the greatest underrepresentation of women, notably computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering and physics in our college," says Associate Dean Jean Jacoby.
"We have recently selected our first six CBL Scholars who are conducting research under the mentorship of faculty members. As part of this program we are inviting distinguished women engineers or scientists to campus to present a public seminar and interact with our undergraduate women studying science or engineering, as well as girls invited from local high schools," says Jacoby.
The initiative comes at a time when the university is planning to increase its investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in order to align with a growing societal need for graduates in those disciplines. Limb alluded to this very need in her talk, saying, "This country does not have enough people like you."
Reflecting on her own SU experience, Limb told the students, "You are really blessed to be here."
She talked about the valuable one-on-one attention she received at SU and the professor who wouldn't let her coast through academically. It was here, she said, that she began to explore and grow in her faith life. She remembers sheepishly asking a professor what the difference was between the Old and New Testaments.
A decade after receiving her bachelor's in mechanical engineering, Limb returned to SU to complete the Executive Leadership Program in Albers. She credits the program with helping her become more of "a leader with a servant perspective," which she puts to work every day overseeing hundreds of employees at Boeing.
Limb was also generous in sharing parts of her personal story, including the life-changing experiencing of overcoming cancer and the challenge of maintaining a busy professional life while raising children.
Jacoby says she has received many e-mails from students "who expressed their appreciation to Deb for sharing her insights on her work and life…and (mentioned) feeling inspired and reflective about their own work in new ways."