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Women Lead: Tracy Kijewski-Correa

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: June 29, 2016

A member of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, Tracy Kijewski-Correa is a female in a traditionally male-dominated field. There have been challenges, and from very early on — she recalls her suggestions during group work as an undergraduate being dismissed out of hand by her male classmates, for one — yet Kijewski-Correa mostly remembers the sincere empathy of professors at Notre Dame who knew she was a student and the caregiver to the ailing grandparents who helped raise her.

“This was a place where professors cared about this girl who they never saw in the evenings or weekends because I was going back home to be a nurse, then coming back and working,” she recalls. “They asked, ‘How’s grandma? How’s grandpa?’ That made a huge impression on me, because I wasn’t just a social security number on a sheet with a grade.”

That empathy is something Tracy Kijewski-Correa now imparts to students who seek her mentorship. It’s a characteristic she believes is crucial to becoming a “Notre Dame engineer,” one borne partly out of the multidisciplinary approach the University requires of its engineering students.

“I was thankful to be a Notre Dame engineer, because it was such a different experience,” she says. “I appreciated the arts and letters classes, that well-rounded approach. It played into my ability to think creatively, and to lead. Lots of schools just stop at the technical training.”

It’s empathy and creative thinking that drives much of Kijewski-Correa’s current work developing technology to meet civil infrastructure challenges. Up to 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. The growth will cause cities to grow out, over expanded geography, and grow up, in ever-taller buildings. And yet, very little is done to routinely monitor these massive structures that hold countless human lives every day.

“Your car can tell you if your oil is low. We have sensors over everything, but we have nothing in our buildings, and these are the second-highest investment we make in the United States, outside the medical profession,” Kijewski-Correa says.

The challenges are equally present in the developing world. In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Kijewski-Correa helped create an initiative called Engineering 2 Empower (E2E) in Haiti, to help provide a long-term solution to the housing crisis there. The guiding principle of E2E is to build the capacity of Haitians to construct safe, affordable homes that allow them to become self-reliant. It’s a long way — in terms of geography and opulence — from the Burj Khalifa, but both projects reflect Kijewski-Correa’s foundational premise.

“That’s what Notre Dame engineers should be doing. We’re not chasing money and fame. We’re solving problems that affect people in an intimate way.”

— The power to lead is the power to transform. Notre Dame is proud to celebrate women whose scholarship and leadership are leaving an indelible imprint on the global community. This is an excerpt from one of six profiles featured on womenlead.nd.edu.


NOTE: Kijewski-Correa joined the Notre Dame faculty after receiving her bachelor's, master's, and doctorate in civil engineering from the University. As a professional woman and working mother, she also has some great advice for young women entering the field of engineering.