First-Hand:Angela R. Bielefeldt
History of an ASEE Fellow Angela R. Bielefeldt As of February 20, 2020 (in progress)
Birthplace: Ames, Iowa Birth date: July 1970
I come from a family of educators. My father's dad was a teacher and then superintendent of a number of K-12 schools in Iowa. My father's mother was a teacher; although after marriage and becoming a mom became a substitute teacher. On my mother's side, my grandma was a teacher in a 1-room school in rural Iowa. She loved teaching; but at the time, married women were not allowed to teach. This "educator" history perhaps contributes to my own love of learning. From an engineering perspective, my father worked as an engineering technician at the Iowa Department of Transportation for over 40 years. He worked in the "design safety" division, so I grew up with stories about road safety and during family road trips was trained to observe different types of guard rail and other safety features. My mother worked at Iowa State University, first as a secretary and then moving up to administrative assistant. She worked in the Materials Science and Engineering department, affiliated with Ames Lab. So there was always interesting science stories through her work.
I was interested in many topics all through K-12, including math, science, and writing. A turning point occurred after my junior year of high school. To earn money for college, I was accepted into a 6-week "Women in Science and Engineering Program" at Iowa State University where I worked in a research lab with an environmental engineering faculty member (Dr. Audrey D. Levine) and her graduate student (Anne Spiesman). I was hooked! I loved being in the laboratory and exploring issues related to human health (e.g. drinking water quality) and the environment. During my senior year of high school, I got "work release" to continue working on-campus with my faculty research mentor.
In considering college, I knew I was paying my own way. I only felt that I could afford an in-state university. So I applied to the best engineering college in the state, which coincidentally was in my hometown (Iowa State University, ISU). I entered ISU as an engineering major. All engineering students entered "first year engineering" and then applied to enter the major of their choice. Majors were enrollment limited, with various GPA cutoffs for entry. This was very much "old school" weed out mentality. I debated primarily between civil and chemical engineering (environmental engineering was a sub-field under civil engineering at ISU). Based on my relationships with civil engineering faculty (continuing to work in the same laboratory under Dr. Levine), I selected civil engineering. I was often one of the few female students in my classes. In my dormitory, our "house" (all women) included only 3 engineering students total. I was also somewhat "misfit" to my cohort, since I entered college in third semester calculus. I sometimes felt isolated. But I felt confident that I would enjoy being a practicing engineer after graduation, based on my graduate student mentors (many had worked as engineers after their Bachelor's degree and had returned to earn an M.S. degree in civil engineering). I enjoyed summer internships. In retrospect, I wish that I had enjoyed my time as an undergraduate student a little more - stressed about grades a little less, maybe tried to fit in study abroad. But I was focused on completing my degree in 4-years because my scholarship ended after four years.
After my Bachelor's degree, I entered the graduate program in civil / environmental engineering at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. Once again, I applied to a single program. I had contacted multiple faculty members at about 5 schools around the country conducting research in my area of interest. Only 1 responded: Dr. David Stensel. During a visit to Seattle, I felt I would fit well with the other graduate students and Dr. Stensel as a research mentor. I really enjoyed my Master's degree experience. I was already comfortable with laboratory research. But the best part was the amazing group of other Master's and PhD students in the program. I planned to enter environmental consulting after my MS degree. Toward this goal, I worked in Seattle after my MS. But ultimately, I was lured back to the PhD program. My PhD was fairly accelerated, completed in a little under 2 years.
Research and Scholarship:
Philosophy of Engineering Education
Other Professional Activities