Iowa State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is celebrating Women’s History Month with a series highlighting alumnae, faculty and students. This is the second in a multi-part series. Click here for more Women’s History Month coverage.
Anita Woodroffe grew up near Denmark, Iowa, where her parents had a sawmill business for over 50 years and lived next to her grandfather’s legacy farm, “The Elms.” She was the youngest of five children, all of whom attended Iowa State University in the engineering and agricultural colleges, following in the footsteps of their older relatives. Coming from a long line of Cyclones, Anita made the decision to also follow her family’s legacy.
She attended Iowa State and graduated with a degree in industrial administration (emphasis in marketing and management) and a minor in economics in 1980. She went on to work in Fort Madison and Iowa City as a department manager of ladies’ and children’s clothing in a family-owned Midwest discount chain store, assisting the buyers in New York’s garment district. But after a while, Anita felt she needed a change.
“While working in Iowa City with college students, I felt I was being left behind in the high-tech world,” Anita said. “It was a time when computers were becoming a household name.” She decided to go back to her alma mater to pursue what she thought would be the most interesting and challenging field: Electrical engineering, concentrating in electromagnetics. Thus, Anita enrolled in Iowa State’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department (ECpE) in the mid 1980s.
While she was studying at ECpE, Anita remembers walking to the Memorial Union on hot summer days. She loved the solid wood furniture and marble floors that made it an inviting spot to study. She was also inspired by the international graduate students who were studying and conversing about events from their homeland. Today, Anita’s name, along with several other Woodroffe names, can be found on the Memorial Union wall.
In the 1980s, Anita was one of few women studying electrical engineering, breaking the barriers many women experienced in the technical fields. As an older student, she was driven to do her best and often could be found in the lab on spring days or asking professors for help during their office hours. She fondly remembers her professor David T. Stephenson, who later worked with Anita as her master’s thesis adviser.
“I never would have thought he would remember me, but turns out, he had a picture of me on his bulletin board in his office. I was working on a circuit project with other students in my class,” Anita said. “He made the class fun.”
After graduating in 1990 with her bachelor’s in electrical engineering, Anita became an instrumentation and controls engineer and later a quality assurance engineer at Iowa’s only nuclear plant, Duane Arnold Energy Center. She achieved a master’s of business administration and later her master’s in system engineering from Iowa State while working and raising her two sons, Alexander and Gunnar.
Anita’s adviser, Stephenson, said it was a pleasure working with Anita while she completed her master’s in systems engineering.
“I was impressed with Anita’s dedication and initiative as she pursued her master’s work,” Stephenson said. “Her ‘creative component’ dealt with an electromagnetic interference issue in the electrical power industry, and her report was impressively detailed and broad in scope, including economic factors. Her motivation showed in her attention to details, including making timely on-campus visits to discuss her work and present the final report.”
Anita went on to become a senior project engineer at Corn Power Cooperative, performing roles in transmission planning, interconnection studies and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reliability standards. With a love of working in the nuclear industry, she found her way back to Duane Arnold Energy Center as a Work Week Manager. She returned to Alliant Energy as a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Engineer III to develop the corporate strategy for monitoring and controlling of the electrical distribution system and has settled in the NERC compliance area.
Today, Anita is proud that her oldest son, Alexander, is attending Iowa State, studying engineering before settling in the business college. Knowing college is not for everyone, Anita is thrilled her youngest son, Gunnar, joined the United States Air Force, currently in the Precision Measurement Equipment Lab (PMEL) tech school. Both sons were Eagle Scouts and attended community college.
She encourages young women to pursue careers in technical fields and to work hard, because “nothing is worth it unless you have to work for it.” She also has advice for everyone pursuing certifications.
“Earn your EIT (engineer-in-training certification) and your PE (professional engineer certification) as soon as you can,” Anita said. “It will be easier as you are fresh out of school, your body is conditioned in studying and taking long exams and you don’t have family obligations to distract you from your professional goals. Always keep learning.”