Oral-History:Jennie S. Hwang

About Jennie S. Hwang

Jennie S. Hwang was born on May 21st, 1949 in China, and raised in Taiwan. She studied Chemistry at some of the best schools in Taiwan before continuing her higher education at Columbia University studying Chemistry and at Kent University studying the pioneering field of Liquid Crystal Science, before earning her Ph.D. at Case Western Reserve University’s Materials Science and Engineering School, becoming the first woman to do so. Hwang’s professional career included executive positions at both Lockheed Martin and Sherwood Williams, and serving as Engineering Advisor to the United States Defense Department’s Army Material Command. Her achievements included induction into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. She was the first woman from Ohio and first Asian-American women to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the first national woman president of Surface Mount Technology Association.

In this interview, Hwang discusses her long and successful career in the science and technology industry. She emphasizes the need both for an enriching education in early childhood and the desire to excel, in spite of challenges, in order to succeed. Addressing the challenges and obstacles of women in STEM fields, Hwang provides encouragement to women to strive, to excel, and to gain confidence in a male-dominated world, as well as to understand the commitment and demand that such environments require. Being Asian, being a woman, and wanting a career and a family, proved to be challenges to Hwang, but despite obstacles and difficulties that she was able to succeed. Serving as an example, she challenges everyone, especially women, to educate themselves, to strive for excellence in their career and with their family, and to contribute their knowledge and experiences to the world.

About the Interview

JENNIE S. HWANG: An Interview Conducted by Kelsey Irvin for the IEEE History Center, 2 July 2013.

Interview #652 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center. Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Samuel C. Williams Library, 3rd Floor, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Jennie S. Hwang, an oral history conducted in 2013 by Kelsey Irvin, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Dr. Jennie S. Hwang
INTERVIEWER: Kelsey Irvin
DATE: 02 July 2013
PLACE: Air Force Institute of Technology (Dayton, OH), D’Azzo Research Library, Bldg 642

Introduction

Irvin:

So I’d like to welcome you to your oral history interview. Please bear in mind that our questions are very detailed because at the end of the day, we need to produce a complete transcript, and we would like anyone who reads it to understand the significant events of your life. We hope to cover the main events of your life to best understand how you got where you are today. If you feel uncomfortable or unable to answer any questions at any time, we can move on to another question keeping in mind that you will be able to edit the transcript and add or delete anything you would like.

Early Life and Education

Irvin:

So let’s begin by talking about your early life and education. So to start off can I have you please state your name and date and place of birth?

Hwang:

Sure, Jennie S. Hwang. The birthdate May 21st, 1949.

Irvin:

And where were you born?

Hwang:

Born in China.

Irvin:

Did you grow up there?

Hwang:

No, I was only two weeks old, and left China.

Irvin:

Oh, wow. Can you tell me a little about your childhood? What was your schooling like in elementary and high school?

Hwang:

My family always valued intellect and emphasized on education going back to the generations that I know or know of. I lived in an encouraging and highly nourishing environment. During my formative years, my grandfather was an additional “guide” for me, which I believe has enhanced my intellectual development and inner drive – I remember he made me read, memorize poems, sing, dance, practice calligraphy, do public speech and presentations and he played chess, Ping-Pong, bridge with me. I “won” some of contests in these activities during my K-12 years. As I remember, I’ve always been engaged in various extracurricular activities and largely on top of the class throughout my school years. It was more than twenty years from the kindergarten to Ph.D. program. Certainly, my family was a huge influence on me, particularly my grandfather. I do appreciate the importance of parents and family. But, I think a grandparent can add another enriching environment for the children during their formative years. I am one of those children who very much benefited by that.

Irvin:

Yeah, so were you interested in technology when you were younger – like in elementary and high school?

Hwang:

As I recall, I was always fascinated by something new, e.g., technology. (I was also intrigued by seemingly the opposite end of the world, such as fashion, dancing, singing.) I am not sure whether it was an innate interest or the influence by the environment. Because, at the time in my environment, being good in science, engineering or math was considered to be of “smart kids.” I know I always wanted to excel, to be the first, to be the best. So, I guess that environment influenced how I thought - what was my thought process in terms of education.

Irvin:

What were your parents, and you mentioned your grandfather, what were their occupations?

Hwang:

My grandfather, a resourceful and thrifty intellect, was richly revered in our community. He was a professor and also a historian, and so he always spent time with me talking about history, geography, and philosophy (Confucius), and also spent copious time with me playing chess and training me in public speech, singing and calligraphy, leading me to be engaged in versatile activities – plentiful extracurricular activities on an individual basis at home, not necessarily the formal after-school programs, but under his guidance and his companionship. And now, I appreciate even more the power of being resourceful and thrifty as he has exemplified.

Irvin:

What were your mothers and fathers occupations?

Hwang:

My father was an economist. My mother was one of few women in her generation having gone through the higher education. She was driven, hard-working, and tenacious, having gone through her whole life as a respected, successful professional woman, so to me everything seems pretty natural.

Irvin:

Yeah, definitely. So what led you to choose Cheng-Kung University for your undergraduate education?

Hwang:

I attended The First-Girls High School in Taipei, Taiwan, which was literally the best high school in the country, as widely recognized. At that time, entering into college was ferociously competitive including three-day written examination, and the admission rate was extremely low. However, the top high schools – I think there were three or four of them in the country – were offered a few slots by two or three leading colleges. These top high schools selected the top students to be admitted to these colleges without taking any exam. So I was offered to a university. Cheng-Kung University was very well-known as a top engineering school with science and engineering focus. Interestingly enough, it was also a university comprised mostly male students.

Irvin:

So how did you choose, of those sciences and engineering, how did you choose chemistry as your major?

Hwang:

Well, Biology is not for me since I was not that good with the anatomy (laugh). So I thought chemistry would be an interesting field to study with.

Irvin:

So what led you to keep going with chemistry at Columbia University and Liquid Crystal Science at Kent State?

Hwang:

Liquid Crystal in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was an intriguing field and Kent State was unique at the time having a dedicated institution for liquid crystals (The Liquid Crystal Institute). The Institute housed pioneers in liquid crystal science. I chose the pioneering and founding professor (Dr. Glenn H. Brown) to study with. I then continued in chemistry field. That is the juncture transitioning from chemistry to engineering. While I was at Columbia University, Case Western Reserve Engineering School wanted to recruit a woman Ph.D. candidate. There was none. Professor Arthur Heuer was most enthusiastic in this recruiting effort. It was a very difficult decision to make because I enjoyed being at the Chemistry department of Columbia University, studying under Professor Stephen Lippard. When I mentioned to Professor Lippard at Columbia that I planned to transfer from Columbia to Case Western Reserve pursuing a Ph.D. in Engineering, his response that I paraphrase: “…No, no,…I have gotten to know so many women students…when they left here they never finished their Ph.D…, don’t leave here...” I appreciated what he was saying, but I just never felt that would happen to me. I knew I would finish my education since Ph.D. is part of completing my education in my mind. Well, I indeed turned out to be the first woman who earned a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University – Materials Science & Engineering.

Irvin:

Wow, that’s incredible.

Hwang:

You know, we probably think of science and engineering as pretty much the same. But if you are a straight chemistry major, you really don’t have the foundation of engineering courses to go into the graduate school level. Case Western Reserve had a rigid requirement that unless the student is coming with an engineering B.S., the student must go through a master’s degree in engineering and then go on to a Ph.D. program. With my persistence, they made an exception letting me go directly to Ph.D. without taking any additional B.S. level courses, however, under a condition. The condition was that I had to take the Ph.D. qualification examination within six months just as a student with an M.S. degree in engineering. This means that I had to take the Ph.D. qualification exam within six months from the time I entered into the program, which was a very tight schedule for one who has straight chemistry background. But I took that commitment. I passed the exam. Additionally, knowing the graduate-level engineering courses are quite different from chemistry, I was quite nervous at the beginning. With a lot of hard work, I received top grades in those graduate engineering courses. Frankly, that was quite shocking to the professors at Case Engineering School, as they so indicated (I guess a flunk was an expectation.)(laugh).

Irvin:

So were there any moments in your younger life, like during your education, which stood out as kind of life changing or critical moments in your career?

Hwang:

In a way, I think my non-stop education, more than twenty years, has made me who I am. My family let me know that I should be a good student, learn as much as I can, always strive for being the best of the class, the best on what I do. So that is what I did to obtain a solid education. As I moved to the workforce, I did find my years of education came in very “handy”.

Irvin:

Yes, absolutely.

Hwang:

But any life changing? I guess moving from the science to engineering was a major shift in terms of learning and may have had some impact in my later on career because I did have a chance to learn different fields. Another major shift occurred in my career life was to transition from corporate career to an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you are on your own – no more corporate shelter and coverage – a “scary” environment. We used to say that you are serving as the CEO and the janitor (at least at the beginning). This shift also, through new learning environment, fortified my “feel” about the business world. I did spend a couple more years in school than most other graduate students, but I think the time spent is not wasted. Overall, in carrying out my work, I found I am able to absorb information better, see things earlier, understand issues more clearly, and assess situations more accurately - kind of a higher level of comprehension, and perhaps a bit of prescience – the ability to make a good inference or judgment.

Career

Irvin:

That’s great. So now that we have talked a little about your early life and education, let’s move on to talking about your career a little bit. So what was your first job you received after your education and after you got your Ph.D.?

Hwang:

This question reminds me that there was another difficult decision to make - to go into academia or into the industry. That was a major decision. I did select to go into the industry because at the time I felt industry was likely more fast-paced and more versatile. I am a very fast-paced person and I like challenging environments so I thought industry perhaps would provide that kind of environment more so than the academia. I am not saying academia does not have challenges. So that is how I had my first job at Lockheed Martin Corporation (then Martin Marietta Corporation), which was a leading conglomerate.

Irvin:

So how long did you work there?

Hwang:

Well, I stayed there several years, I think eight years. I would consider it to be a most intensive learning experience for more than one reason. First, I never worked before, a total novice in the workforce. After being a student all the years, getting into the workforce was quite a shift. Second, being a woman. I was the only woman in my capacity in the company, not to mention was the only Asian-American woman. Also I was on fast-track - quickly advanced to management track. I was like a “sponge in contact with water.”

Irvin:

So how did you originally hear about that job at Lockheed Martin? How did you get it?

Hwang:

Actually, at that time if you are equipped with an engineering Ph.D., it is really not difficult to find a job (laugh). In school, there were career placements. The company had a facility in Cleveland. I did have a constraint to not make any relocation because of the family and my son was just born. So a good opportunity in Cleveland was on top of my priorities.

Irvin:

So what led you to join Sherwin Williams Corporation?

Hwang:

I really enjoyed working at Martin and learned a lot during those years about how the organization works, what the corporate America is, what it takes to manage people and to work with people, how to manage research and technology, and how a woman being perceived in a corporation - to be a professional woman, mostly, a young woman in a male-dominated environment. That is the first time I also sensed the differences in how a professional woman is expected to perform. On the one hand, we can call it the learning, and on the other, it was the challenge as well. So after working on the first job for a few years, although a great company, I thought a new environment would be another new learning opportunity. At this time Sherwin Williams was trying to assemble a team which specifically focused on exploring new markets and new business expansion, a kind of “out-of-box” business strategy. I was contacted by a recruiter and Sherwin is located in Cleveland, which facilitated the move. Most of all, I thought “exploring new business opportunities” would be a nice venturous area to work with and fulfill my desire for accomplishments and challenges.

Irvin:

So what was your particular role at that company?

Hwang:

I served as thought leader and execution leader for the new business exploration. And I did lead the team delivering the desired results.

Irvin:

So, you were an advisor in the field of engineering in the U.S. Defense Department’s Army Materiel Command’s effort to reduce the cost and enhance performance of electronic weaponry. So, can you tell me a little bit about this role and what led you to it?

Hwang:

Yeah, in the electronic industry, the period in ‘80s and 90’s was considered to be two decades of true revolution. I think you are too young (laughs) to know that. Back to 1980 plus and minus of a year or two, we didn’t even have personal computers on our desks. Today the personal computer is considered a dated product. In order to make personal computer possible, the industry had to go through the revolutionary change to miniaturize every single part to build a computer. So, there were urgent needs of knowledge and expertise. I published my first book in the late 1980’s, and I think that first book that integrates the electronic manufacturing and the electronic materials called attention to then the chief in charge of the U.S. Army research. They wanted to solicit outside expertise to complement internal resources. But they wanted to search for not just a scientist, but also a person who can integrate both science and manufacturing – including manufacturing know-how and practical knowledge. My book reflects that. They got hold of me asking me whether I would be willing to join their team in working with them in an advisory capacity.

Irvin:

Your communication skills coupled with your insights and international networking are helping to bridge the gap between theoretical scientists in academic and practical engineering in the industry. What led you to build these skills in international networking and communication?

Hwang:

A great question! I guess international networking is one vehicle I built over the years since I was invited to the speaking circle and asked for consultancy quite frequently all over the world—from Sweden to Japan, from Germany to Singapore, from England to Malaysia. It was good timing; the market was “craving” for knowledge and information due to the dynamic state of the industry. I was fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to meet and interact with a variety of people in government, quasi-government, industrial organizations as well as universities - versatile avenues for me to get acquainted with people and organizations across the continents. I have visited many countries, 25 -30 countries. I built a network and have had many business acquaintances on a professional level. Having a wide range of exposures coupled with paying attention to people, interpersonal “sensitivity and sensibility” have gradually evolved. Some of that comes with an understanding of human nature. I truly believe if one pays attention, one can build not only a professional network, but also really “know” the diversity of people and act accordingly.

Irvin:

Right. So something that particularly caught my interest when I was looking at your C.V. was your two most recent books that are on the subject of the global movement of environmentally-friendly electronics. What led you to become interested in this topic? What intrigues you about it?

Hwang:

Back in the late 1990’s, a few of us foresaw that the environmentally-friendly electronics would prevail, even as the conversion was facing strong, massive oppositions. What is considered to be environmentally-friendly electronics? Simply put, the hardware and devices do not contain any hazardous substances. I was in that position envisioning its coming, and believing there is a need of new and integrated knowledge in this area. This is how the two books were conceptualized and subsequently written. Indeed, eventually, the environmentally-friendly electronics did become a global regulation (RoHS). So to me, it is a very natural path from being a leader in the electronics industry to helping the industry convert from the existing status quo to the more environmentally friendly arena. Now, the whole industry, actually across industries is going to the so-called ‘green’ ecosystem - the environmentally friendly manufacturing and green products.

Higher Education Services

Irvin:

So you have done quite a lot of work in higher education services. So what did you hope to accomplish and what have you actually accomplished in service to your alma maters?

Hwang:

Well, even working in the industry I always allocate my time and make a point to do some scholarly work. I always pay attention to academia. I keep in close contact with what the university’s charter – not only the specific universities I serve, but also in higher education. As far as my alma maters, I was asked to serve on the Board of Trustees and on the Advisory Boards. With my background experiencing both eastern and western education systems, I feel I can contribute by sharing the best of the both worlds through offering recommendations and asking “right” questions. I hope I have made positive impact.

Corporate Board and Professional Services

Irvin:

So in addition to the Board of Trustees, you have served on several corporate boards and other professional positions. Can you tell me a little bit about what you enjoy or what you have gained from these roles?

Hwang:

Well, the corporate boards are different from the university boards, especially, the public companies. The corporate boards are also involved in compliance with specific regulations; whether it is the New York Stock Exchange or any other listing agencies. The most satisfying experience serving on a corporate board is the strategic thinking to build and grow business in the global marketplace. I feel most satisfied when I have found that my thinking toward the corporate issues, e.g., strategy and operation, has been in the right direction. Although, in a corporate boardroom, my views may not always prevail, my views and suggestions eventfully turned out to be true, which did not help the situation but did enhance my confidence in my business judgment. Serving on the board also goes both ways. You still get to learn in that capacity. The confluence of my broad-based technology and manufacturing knowledge, international business and global market experiences uniquely positions me to contribute to strategic directions and innovations. Going forward, this is the part I enjoy the most and also, the part I can contribute the most. On the board of non-profit or professional organizations, I enjoy the leadership capacity to do something good, e.g., as the national president of Surface Mount Technology Association (an industry organization comprising corporate, government and academic members serving the global electronics manufacturing industry.) In that capacity, we were able to expand our membership throughout the world having formed several international chapters at selected countries. We also augmented the services to members particularly for their continued education and career network. This year, the organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary. During the three decades, the organization has elected 12 presidents, and I am the only woman president.

Selected Clients of Consultancy/Advisory

Irvin:

Interesting. So what experience have you had consulting Fortune 500 companies? What do you enjoy about it?

Hwang:

What do I enjoy most about it?

Irvin:

Yes.

Hwang:

Uh-huh. It is a sense of ability to solve specific issues. I am also always energized by high level intellectual exercise and rigor. Consultancy provides that environment. It is a joy to attempt foreseeing the future events. I always try to test myself, you know, - to see what could happen, what would be the events and what actually happened. In most situations, I have helped preventing a negative event from happening. In most situations I have some foresight. If you ask whether that foresight has actually materialized or not, “luckily” most have. But even if not, I always try to prove to myself by relating my foresight to what happened and why. It has provided me quite a lot of confidence because when it is indeed materialized, then you know your thinking is on the right path.

Patents

Irvin:

Interesting. That’s great. So I looked at some of your patents and your very first U.S. Patent 4,460,414 was “Paste and Vehicle Thereof.” I just wanted to ask you if you could tell me what the idea behind this is and how you came to it?

Hwang:

Okay. Let’s see, that first patent I think was probably in the early ‘80s. That patent was to design new materials that are used to build the electronic circuitry since electronic circuitry is becoming ever faster, smaller with increased functionality. This is why we have today’s phenomenally cool electronic gadgets. They are so different from even five or ten years ago. The novelty of that material system enables unique characteristics to meet market demands and product needs - higher functionality, higher density circuitry and a better electronic product.

Awards/Honors

Irvin:

Okay. So moving on a little bit from that. In your career you have received numerous distinguished awards and so many honors and a lot of them you were the first woman to achieve. You were, as you said, the first woman to graduate from Case Western Reserve with a Ph.D. in your field, and you were inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, and won the YWCA Women Achievement Award. What achievements led to these accomplishments as your role as a female in the field?

Hwang:

Well, I guess the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame mainly is centered around my long-time leadership in the electronics industry. Other awards, I think, are a combination of my contribution to society in addition to the professional achievements. So, I would say basically it was the leadership in the community, the leadership in the industry, as well as contributions to the workforce.

Irvin:

So when did you become a member of the IEEE?

Hwang:

Well, over the years, I was a member of a number of professional organizations including IEEE. And right now, I am focusing on a few professional or trade organizations.

Irvin:

Okay. So what about the American Association of University Women? What about that organization?

Hwang:

Right. Actually that organization invited me to give a keynote speech for their annual meeting. So with that invitation, that is how I got acquainted with that association.

Irvin:

Okay. So what do you think you have gained from being a member of that organization?

Hwang:

Well, one thing was really striking. It was in the mid 1990’s - the keynote speech was held in a large ballroom. I was most struck by one thing which is very refreshing to me. In the whole ballroom there were all women, except only a couple of men, which is the sharp contrast to my exposure over 20-25 years career (then) – essentially the only woman in the room. But that is the very “shaking’ experience.

Irvin:

Wow. That is fantastic that they can allow such accumulation of so many women together in that organization.

Hwang:

That’s right. American Association of University Women is a great organization. I think the organization, to my understanding, has helped a lot of women particularly involved in the academia for their professional development and networking and even personal fulfillment.

Writing

Irvin:

So I know we touched a bit on your writing before. I see you have written and been the author and contributing author to numerous books. I’m curious what inspires you in your writing?

Hwang:

What inspires me? First, I think writing sharpens the brain and clarifies the mind, and you learn as you write. It is a commitment. And writing a book is a huge endeavor. It takes a lot of time – I worked on most weekends, evenings and holidays for my first book. When I wrote my first book, I sensed a special experience that I have never had before. I felt at one particular moment the human brain has a limited capacity to dissect information. That is the first time I had that experience. Literature always says that the human brain has never fully been used - only a certain percentage of it is used. However, at a single moment, say that particular hour or day, if you are really soaked into writing and tried to handle a vast amount of information, I think there is a different feeling. You may feel you have hit the capacity at that moment. That is one experience I had never had before. When writing an article or publication, it is somewhat different from writing a voluminous book. The sheer large volume of information that you have to dissect and put it in proper words makes a huge difference. I also realized at the time that when you have certain thoughts – forming the thoughts in your mind is different from expressing it verbally. That is, in turn, very different from trying to put that thought into proper writing. I guess the future advanced neurological science may have a way to gauge what the requirements are for doing specific functions in a quantitative way. But I am saying from personal experience, there is a different level of demand in writing from speaking or other forms of expressing the thoughts and knowledge. Most of all, writing solidifies and clarifies thoughts; writing also invigorates and enhances critical thinking.

Irvin:

Interesting. So you are a contributing author for the book entitled, “The Road to Scientific Success – Inspiring Life Stories of Prominent Researches.” Can you describe your contribution to this book?

Hwang:

Yes. That book was structured in such ways that the publisher identified the people to be featured, and then invited them to write one chapter about their road through the world. So I was asked to write a chapter about where I have been. I was not the person who structured the book, nor initiated the book. While contributing a chapter, it was a nice platform to reflect on my family, myself and my career.

Gender

Irvin:

So something that we are particularly interested in for this interview, as you know, is the challenges of being a woman in STEM fields. We have touched on this a bit already in the interview, but something I wanted to ask you in particular is if you knew of any differences between the acceptance of women pursuing technological degrees in Taiwan versus the United States.

Hwang:

Historically, both countries exhibit scarcity of women pursuing degrees in STEM fields. But significant progress has made in the percentage of woman obtaining degrees in STEM fields.

Irvin:

So do you think there is a trend that more women are being accepted into the field from before to now to the future more so in the United States than Taiwan?

Hwang:

Well, I left Taiwan decades ago, I have lived all my adult life here, but countries like Taiwan very much value and respect the young people in the science and engineering. As an illustration, the tenth grade in high school could be a very large class so students are separated into twenty different classes. In twenty classes, there were two classes that are science-focused, which is equivalent to the advance placements here. The rest are considered regular classes. The two science-focused classes comprise smart students or smarter students – “smarter” meaning better grades, better math, better chemistry or physics. There is the general perception in comparing the students going to the science or engineering with other fields such as psychology, social science, literature, language. Even today, this perception remains. This is probably why today in the United States there is heightened concern about the percentage of college students pursuing a science and engineering degree, relative to some other countries. We do know that the pipeline is not very deep here. Some of other countries give a high regard to science, engineering, and math, more so than the United States. This is a national issue. When we examine K-12 through higher education and STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, how we compare to other countries, thus the global competitiveness is a grand challenge. There is much to be discussed on this subject.

Irvin:

Okay. So what issues have you experienced in your career because of your gender? You have mentioned that often times you were the only woman in an engineering environment, so have you experienced any issues because of that?

Hwang:

Yes, I have been the only woman in most of my working environments, from the factory floor to the boardroom. Is there an equality in this regard? The general answer is no. In terms of issues, they are more subtle ones than obvious. There are abundant areas to discuss and I can discuss this separately. In brevity, I think deep down, there are differences and additional challenges for women, especially when you try to move up the ladder. It’s a pyramid. In the middle there are a large number of positions and opportunities available. I think today’s policies and regulations have helped. But once you are near the top, I think there is a difference between men and woman. How to be assertive while being feminine is a subject deserving a lot of deliberation. The “old boy club” does not go away. There is also the subtle difference which is a challenge to women. Women still need to take extra care about how we act and how we talk. Another interesting thing I found is that if a man has a professional working wife, he tends to understand better of working with women on the professional level than those who have a stay-home wife. You know, men can be nice gentlemen, but that is different. That is social behavior not professional in the workforce. It appears that a man with a professional working wife probably feels more comfortable with women as coworkers than the man who has a wife full-time at home. Unfortunately, in my environment, among the men I am working with, their wives do not work. This has changed and is changing more dramatically.

Irvin:

Wow. Are they usually stay-at-home moms?

Hwang:

I guess. Then they found themselves to be either not totally natural, spontaneous, or they feel intimidated - it could be a different kind of human psychology.

Irvin:

Interesting. So did you ever feel any additional pressure to balance your family life – your personal life- with your professional life?

Hwang:

Always. I think the most demanding part of being a career woman is how to handle both family and a career well. But I do believe it can be done and can be done well, but not without some sacrifices. I have always been a believer to have both. I want it all (laughs). But if that is where a woman wants, then she has to work very effectively to make it work. There is no doubt that this is the most demanding part of being a woman. Particularly as a mother it is always the most demanding part of life.

Irvin:

Wow. So do you have any advice for women in a demanding career whom wish to start or want to maintain their family life?

Hwang:

Yes. The first thing is to really think about how to use time effectively. I also learned through many encounters that there are so many different ways one can use the time. At either end of the spectrum, one can be not effective or can be very effective. It makes a difference. If a woman wants to be a mother as well as to have a successful career, the effective use of time is very important. The career is not just a job working from eight to five. A career, as with myself, the work is always with you either at your desk or in your mind. Also, we have to learn how to focus and how to prioritize. Not everything has equal importance at one time. We all “want” many things. There are more important things than others so one has to be able to separate what is more important at that particular time. For example, what is more important today or this year? So the focus and the prioritization make difference. Of course, understanding by the spouse is very helpful, and the spouse has to be in sync with your thinking and then both can work together. It is not easy, but it can be done. Over the years, very successful professional women have different views, and some believe it is almost impossible to do both well. But I happen to be on the other side of thought. I think it is possible and it is extremely rewarding to be able to do both. The world has changed; it is much more accommodating for women in the workforce. And there are many opportunities. Women not using their full potential, their talents and capabilities is not the best way to manage national resources.

Irvin:

How have you seen women’s roles in your field change over the years?

Hwang:

In my field or in general?

Irvin:

Perhaps in general, or both.

Hwang:

Yeah. In general, I think the acceptance level is much higher today than when I started my career. Certainly women’s education has been in par. If you look at college graduation, women graduates are gaining higher percentage. We have more women finishing higher education and even advanced degrees. That is a major stride. But in the workforce, we see that women are either not pursuing this career or not sustaining. Women of today still face more challenges than the male counterpart.

Irvin:

As we talked about a little before, you have been the first woman to accomplish so many engineering feats such as being the first woman from Ohio and the first Asian-American woman elected to the NAE, the first woman, as we said, to receive a Ph.D. from Case Western University’s Materials Science Engineering, and the first woman National President of Surface Mount Technology Association. How do you feel about these accomplishments of being the first woman?

Hwang:

Well, I feel good (laughs), but still much more to go for. I think the real thing is the preparation, hard work, focus, the ability to endure and sustain. An individual is always influenced by the environment, and the people who support you from the family, and, to some degree, the friends, coworkers, and mentors. It takes a lot to accomplish certain things so I think there are many factors. But the most important is still an individual’s mind and effort on what you want to accomplish and work for it – that inner drive.

Irvin:

As you were saying there, you have had a lot of leadership roles in STEM fields – President of H-Technologies now and senior executive positions with that first company, Lockheed Martin, and several other things. So how do you think that we can encourage more women to take on these leadership roles and step up above from somewhat of a subordinate in a male-dominated field?

Hwang:

In this regard, I think building the confidence is step one. I believe one’s mind dictates one’s behavior and the outcome. If you have the confidence and the drive, you can be or become a good leader. But that confidence is the accumulative result of deep knowledge, positive experience and versatile exposures. I also believe that leadership can be trained. There is always debate if a leader is natural born, innate or trained. To a large extent it can be trained if one has that drive. I think the encouraging and the training environment would be inducive to increasing women in leadership position. Additionally, the supporting system, role model and mentorship can all play a role as well.

Advice and Reflection

Irvin:

So now I would like to ask you just a few questions to reflect on your career and maybe give a little advice before we wrap up this interview. What was your favorite job you held and why was it your favorite job?

Hwang:

I would say in any situation where I am able to provide leadership would be my favorite. This even includes serving as the chair of a board/committee/panel, for which I am able to lead and inspire the members to deliver the best outcome. That is the type of my “feel good” favorite jobs, which may or may not be a “formal” job.

Irvin:

That’s interesting. I like that. Before, we talked about the importance of environmentally-friendly technology to you. So how have you seen green technology evolve over the course of your career thus far?

Hwang:

A lot of changes – in concept and in action. The world has evolved into a more environmentally conscious place for last 35 years. On the one hand, perhaps it is inevitable. But on the other hand, it is also because the society has changed – the human civilization continues to advance. An exponential increase in human activities on Earth has been occurring. We perhaps have no choice but to be more conscientious about the environment in order to keep a healthy living place for ourselves and for our children. That is one way to look at it. Governments have put an increased emphasis on this and the corporations have also been taking on the environment and sustainability as a corporate social responsibility. My books and invited lectures are intended to help the manufacturing sector and the global industry make environmental-friendly products.

Irvin:

How could your experiences in STEM fields and you particular field help someone just entering or contemplating entering a STEM field?

Hwang:

Certainly, I am keenly aware of the demands in this field. I think the awareness and interest need to be developed in childhood. Once beyond high school it would not be easy to steer to science or math. Also without having the early foundation in science and math, it is difficult to catch up. There is family and social influence on that. The government and school can and should play a role as well. This is a large picture issue and a national agenda. Students need to have the opportunity to develop their interests in science and math. A living illustration I think is worth mentioning:

“When our son, Raymond, was in seventh grade, his school separated the Advanced Placement class from regular classes. For math, Ray was assigned to a regular class. One night at the dinner table, he mentioned that he really felt he should be in the Advanced Placement. Instantly, this triggered me that this “smart, active” kid must have the opportunity to study hard, work to his best ability and develop his math skills. We shouldn’t hold him back. I called his school and then personally visited with the administrator to communicate Ray’s wish and my own thoughts. The administrator was cordial and we had a great exchange. Actually the administrator was quite patient to put up with my “preaching” about education. But in the end, he held his position. That was that everything was assigned and the Advanced Placement class was already over-sized, therefore the change could not be made. His reaction was understandable and was to my prediction. But I did not stop there. I was determined that Ray must have the opportunity to study to his best ability. I pursued further, adamantly and persistently. Finally, the administrator arranged for me to “negotiate” with the teacher of the Advanced Placement math class. I did. The teacher put out the conditions that Ray must be willing to go through the whole textbook of Pre-Algebra II during the coming summer vacation and he had to submit homework assignments every week, take tests and meet with the teacher every other week. In addition, Ray must, at the end of the summer, take the final exam. We accepted all conditions unconditionally. The end game is the outcome of “The teacher’s Final Report” based on all summer homework and the final exam. The teacher came out a very comprehensive report. Here is her concluding remarks: “…Ray worked every day to complete a three-trimester course in three months…The material was all new to him, and he was able to get a handle on it nonetheless. This is quite a feat!! Ray is ready for algebra I. I applaud his summer efforts and initiative. Bravo! On a job well done…” Ray got into the Advanced Placement class in math. Since then, he took all Advanced Placement classes in math and sciences throughout his high school, and was good at arts, sports as well. He has gone on to MIT, Harvard Medical School and Harvard MBA. If you ask him today about a pivotal point in his intellectual development, he will undoubtedly recount this story.”

In order to continue the interest in STEM and also be able to practice it in career, one also needs to understand the commitment to it. I have setup a YWCA Outstanding College Student Award – Dr. Jennie S. Hwang Award, going in its 15th year. This annual Award recognizes the outstanding women college students who major in one of the sciences, engineering or technology-related disciplines and to encourage women to pursue sciences, engineering and technology-related education and professions.

Irvin:

If you could go back and change one thing – anything - what would it be, and why?

Hwang:

Well, I didn’t see that question (laughs).

Irvin:

Sorry (laughs), I know that is particularly hard question.

Hwang:

I wouldn’t attribute to any specific things as to what I would do entirely differently. I do have a wish, actually. That is I wish I knew or understood things or had the knowledge level 20 years ago as I do now (laughs). So I was thinking if I had that knowledge earlier I probably could have done more things or done better. I am always thinking that way. If I had one wish, I just wish I had today’s knowledge then. So this probably applies to the young people starting a career. You want to pay attention and work hard to gain knowledge better and earlier – start now!

Irvin:

What do you believe is the greatest obstacle that you have overcome in your career or in your life in general?

Hwang:

The biggest obstacle in my career or additional challenge is being a woman as well as an Asian-American, which is a double whammy. The most challenge in general, I think, again, is the demands in handling the career and family and to do both well. Although having dedicated and continue to dedicate to my work, I always have my children as the top priority. I mentioned the sacrifice. Yes, there is a need for sacrifice. For twenty years, during my children’s growing up time, I had absolutely not exercised any hobbies, and had not much personal time. For a while, those personal things have to be put aside.

Irvin:

So how many children do you have?

Hwang:

I have two children - one son, one daughter. Both children had great childhood and went through the best schools in our area all the way from kindergarten to high school. My son entered the MIT in computer science & engineering with a 5-year program to receive both B.S. and M.S. He went on to Harvard Medical School and after that he finished his residency and continued to Harvard M.B.A. He is now a budding spine surgeon.

Irvin:

Wow. That is amazing.

Hwang:

My daughter is educated from Wellesley College, majoring in economics and went into an entirely different field. She practiced as an investment banker with U.B.S. and then went into retail business working at Saks Fifth Avenue at its headquarters in New York City. Now she is on leave with the children (laugh). More importantly they are happy children.

Irvin:

Overall, what would you say you are most proud of in either your career or in your life?

Hwang:

I am most proud of my ability to foresee and anticipate events and to be a little bit ahead of the curve, and of my perceptiveness to see things beneath the surface (I constantly test myself to see where I stand in terms of my “vision”). I am most pleased to receive feedback from my colleagues with whom I work on boards together – “you are a renaissance woman”; “you always ask good questions, your questions are better than the answers”. It is enjoyable to pay attention to broad-based information, not only in my own field, and to have a wide array of interests in the world ranging from economy and technology to world affairs and foreign relations to investment and fashion, which is enriching and invigorating. I feel fulfilled to be able to appreciate it all, in a sense. I am glad I pursued a career and also raised a family. I think that is what I feel good about. I am also proud that I have gained the ability to successfully work on entirely different tasks (e.g., technology to economy to business to world affairs) consecutively or concurrently.

Irvin:

Yes. I agree. It’s very impressive and I think it is really wonderful you realize the sacrifices you have had to make and how you do have that personal life and that family life and the professional life. I think that is a really difficult but amazing combination to be able to achieve.

Hwang:

Thank you. I think, again, I do like to encourage young women that it can be done, but you just have to know what reality is. A lot of times it can be very frustrating but if you overcome it the frustration is easily forgotten. It is important to look at the big picture rather than being pigeon-holed by transient frustrations.

Irvin:

So I have a quote here from Eleanor Roosevelt. She once said that “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” What are your goals for the future and the rest of your career in the near future?

Hwang:

Right. I see life in three stages. The first stage is to prepare yourself, which means the education, a solid education and a robust learning - preparing for the second stage. The second stage is to build your career and family. You start to learn your environment and move upward in the workforce while raising a family. Hopefully you reach your goal or apex of your career, whatever you aim at. Your career goal could be the leader of an organization, the charity, the CEO of the company, or even the President of the United States. It can be specific to a goal to satisfy yourself. The third stage is to contribute – contribute in the sense of using what you have learned and what you have accomplished. I am right now in the third stage, which by no means is going to be relaxing. I just ran into some friends who said, “When are you going to slow down?” And I said, “You know, this is the best time of my life. I can contribute much more than before because I know much more than before. I feel more energetic than 20 years ago. So I actually work even harder…” I guess I am a virtual bionic. Right now in addition to managing our own business, I would like to make contributions to the corporate world by serving on the boards to help companies grow and make profits for shareholders. My husband cheerfully said: “…whichever company who can find you is the luckiest…” So I have to measure up to it. Also, hopefully I can assist and inspire the younger generation, including my own children and anyone who so desire; also to serve our national boards/committees for the benefit of the country. I currently serve as the Chairman for the Assessment Board of the U.S. Army Research. That is the contribution to the country by helping make the U.S. Army the Strategic Land Power Dominance and Superiority of 2035 and beyond, supported by the best equipment, technology, and supplies. Those are the very intellectually intriguing work. Right now on top of my regular work, I am looking at those three aspects: the corporate boards, working for the benefits of young people, and helping the country’s agenda by sharing thoughts and ideas through serving on panels and committees. Actually, it is equally intense or a different type of intensity when you were in the first and second stages of life building your family and career.

Irvin:

Is there anything that I have neglected to ask you that you would like to add?

Hwang:

Well, you have covered quite thoroughly. I want to say that the Oral History project that you are undertaking is profound and invaluable. You are doing a fantastic job, providing a great service to the STEM community and the country - immensely commendable!!

For college students, recently I delivered a commencement speech at the Ohio University. I may excerpt some of the messages I shared with them - I used quite different stories to illustrate the points – but some of the basic messages are:

"...In this global landscape, education, workforce and technology are three building blocks to a healthy economy. Only a strong economy creates jobs. These three building blocks must synchronize with the market demands and global thrusts, we have to position where and what role that we will play…"

"...Meet a challenge head-on; and go for creativity and innovation, no matter what field you will be entering!"

"...Always acquire new knowledge and new skills, and learn fast!"

"...Another crucial facet of global economy is the spirit and the practice of entrepreneurship, be entrepreneurial!”

"...Look and think deeper beyond the apparent characteristics on the surface."

"...Share with your community…Love your parents and family, and keep close to them. They are the most important people in your lives..."

"...The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today's work well. When an opportunity knocks, you will be able to open the door."

"...If a door does not exist, build a door."

Irvin:

Absolutely.

Hwang:

That is the thing. Do it today and do it well,

“Success is a journey - a long and steady journey, made of many, little, daily victories."

Irvin:

That is very inspiring to hear.