A commitment to the environment led University of Tennessee, Knoxville, engineering graduate Susan E. Stutz-McDonald to a career pursuing ways of making the air, water, and land better for all.
Now, the Susan E. Stutz-McDonald Scholarship Foundation (SESMSF) is celebrating her life and work with a scholarship in her memory in UT’s College of Engineering. Stutz-McDonald died in 2005 after a four-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Her colleagues and her sister, Sally Stutz Baker, started the SESMSF in 2005 with the first major endowment being awarded to UT in 2015. The $125,000 endowment will be used to offer an annual award to a deserving female engineering student at the graduate level with a primary focus in environmental or wastewater engineering.
“Susan was orange through and through, even after she left Tennessee to go work in California,” said Baker. “She never lost her connection to Tennessee.”
A native of Chattanooga, Stutz-McDonald graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1972 before coming to UT, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1976. She then attended Oregon State University on a full scholarship, earning a master’s degree in sanitary and environmental engineering in 1977.
Carollo Engineers in San Francisco hired her after that, at a time when being a woman in the world of engineering came with its own set of challenges. Fewer than 2 percent of engineering graduates were women in 1977, compared to a still low but much improved 20 percent now.
Stutz-McDonald’s expertise as an engineer eventually led to her becoming the first and only female board of directors member in Carollo history, with her experiences and abilities serving as inspiration for others along the way.
“Both by being a trailblazer as a woman in this field and also by using her own capabilities to better prepare, motivate, and shape the careers of women who came after her, she really laid the groundwork for the success of a lot of people,” said Keli Callahan, SESMSF president. “She allowed us to have the careers we have now.
“There are a lot of us grateful for her efforts.”
Lydia Holmes, a member of the SESMSF board since 2006, echoed those sentiments, saying that Stutz-McDonald had served as a valuable mentor for women and men alike at the company; her mentoring method had been one of patience, understanding, and appreciation for the efforts of the engineers at the company, and she had understood that work-life balance was important, especially to those starting families.
Holmes said one reason that Stutz-McDonald connected with young engineers starting families was that she’d had to move to part-time work while raising her three children in the 1980s, giving her perspective on how difficult it can be to fit family, marriage, and career in one twenty-four-hour day.
So strong was her reputation as a mentor, Holmes said, that Stutz-McDonald felt some sadness when she became a Carollo board member because it meant she would have less opportunity for mentoring.
Retired Carollo CEO Howard Way described Stutz-McDonald as a “genuine, and a very impressive engineer and person.”
Her career seemed poised for even greater heights before cancer took its toll, with the company grooming her to be the next CEO.
It was at a Christmas party barely a year before her death that her sister truly realized the impact Stutz-McDonald had.
“There she was in formal attire, bald and with a wig on, as beautiful as ever, greeting and smiling as if nothing was different,” said Baker. “After finding out I was her sister, everyone came up to me all night long explaining and professing how wonderful she was at work, from the secretarial staff to the newest engineers, female and male alike.
“It was during this party of about 150 employees and their dates that I came to realize what an effect she had made.”
David Goddard (865-974-0683, firstname.lastname@example.org)