An advocate and mentor for engineering students

July 13, 2020

UM-Dearborn’s first female engineering graduate establishes an endowment for campus’ Society of Women Engineers student organization.

 Alumna Janet Hall, center, attends a campus event in 2019. Hall speaks at Society of Women Engineers events and helped mentor UM-Dearborn students for decades.
Alumna Janet Hall, center, attends a campus event in 2019. Hall speaks at Society of Women Engineers events and helped mentor UM-Dearborn students for decades.

Janet Hall knows she has a can-do attitude, but she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer.

“I was a girl who loved physics and was lucky to have parents who encouraged my interests. I wouldn’t say I’ve done anything particularly special.”

But the 1968 graduate’s actions and accomplishments say otherwise.

Hall, ‘68 B.S.E.E.E., was the first UM-Dearborn female College of Engineering and Computer Science graduate — she left her family dairy farm in upstate New York and moved to Dearborn, Michigan, when a Ford Motor Company recruiter visited Hall’s school and told her about a new college co-op program at the then named Dearborn Center of the University of Michigan.

She was among the first female electrical engineers to work at Ford Motor Company. During the ‘Space Race” and around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Hall wrote computer programs for the Ford Philco Mission Control Center.

And when opportunities presented themselves for multiple promotions, Hall earned her M.B.A. and pivoted into management where she lived in Germany and oversaw a team of Ford engineers working on three continents.

“In my early days, I was aware colleagues were watching me — a woman engineer — so I focused on my work and doing it well. The skeptics became supporters and I started climbing the ladder,” said Hall, who retired from Ford Motor Company in 2001 as Manager of Powertrain Global Prototype Operations.

“But I recognize there are people who don’t change with the times and make things difficult. I once had a boss who was old school as the day is long. He didn’t value me. So I created what I call ‘the work around.’ I’d stay later than my immediate boss so I could get to know the big boss. I wanted the big boss to see what I could contribute to Ford. I was later promoted. My advice is: You can’t go through people, but you can go around them.”

Most recently, Hall created the first endowment to support students who are members of UM-Dearborn’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) student organization through a $25,000 gift — the Janet Hall Society of Women Engineers Endowed Fund. 

Hall said the purpose of the gift is to provide support for engineering students involved in SWE through scholarships and support for professional development experiences like SWE conferences.

Hall said she became involved with a Detroit SWE chapter during her nearly 35-year career at Ford. The organization introduced her to engineering recruiters, gave an opportunity for travel, and increased the size of her network.

“I know how valuable the experience of working with other women engineers can be and it is important to continue the support of the student chapter of SWE at my alma mater,” said Hall, who has been a frequent guest speaker at the UM-Dearborn SWE chapter events.

Hall said today’s graduates have a different experience than she did 50 years ago — but there are still challenges to overcome. 

“Their world is different from what mine was. The barriers aren’t the same, but there are still pockets of old-school thinking. There are things I can share — like the workaround — that may help them navigate difficult situations so they can succeed,” Hall said. “I didn’t have a female mentor, so I want to be that for someone else. I’m here to give these women support in any way I can.”