Systers Act: Koessler’s Impact Felt Well Beyond the Classroom

Denise Koessler | Photo: Dustin Brown

Denise Koessler | Photo: Dustin Brown

When Denise Koessler receives her doctorate in computer science, it will mark the end of the long road—one that wasn’t always easily traveled.

“There were times along the way where I didn’t have a peer in my classes,” said Koessler. “I was on the verge of leaving engineering. There just weren’t many other women.”

But rather than turn away, Koessler became energized, looking for ways to create a more welcoming environment for other women in UT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

In the spring of 2013 at an Industrial Advisory Board meeting, Koessler met UT alumnus H. M. “Hash” Hashemian, co-founder, president, and CEO of Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation. She talked to him about the idea of forming a women’s peer group within the department, and he pledged $10,000 to help.

With the funds, Koessler helped create Systers: Women in EECS, a group dedicated to improve the—in her words—”abysmal” 6 percent rate of female students in the electrical engineering and computer science programs.

“We formed a ‘Lean In’ group to talk about the book that had just come out on encouraging women to speak up, and we really started addressing our anxieties and moving forward,” Koessler said.

As her time at UT nears an end, Koessler said Systers’ growth gives her immense satisfaction.

“From the start, our number one goal has been to create a sustained environment where people, regardless of gender, can work together, encourage one another, and build a community feeling,” said Koessler. “If it means keeping just one or two students going who might have dropped engineering, it’s worth it.”

What started as a group of seven students in the fall of 2013 has now grown to more than sixty—even some men—and includes contacts with women in business as well as alumni.

Lynne Parker, faculty advisor for the group, said Koessler’s effort have made a lasting impact on the college.

“Denise has been instrumental in establishing and leading Systers during its first year,” Parker said. “Her enthusiasm and excitement have led to the rapid growth of the program. Students for many years to come can benefit from her hard work.

“Through Denise’s leadership, the Systers organization is helping to change the culture within our department, in very positive ways.”

Click here to learn more about Systers.

Click here for more on the College of Engineering.

Click here for more on the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)

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