Then and Now: First Mother-Daughter Grads Reflect on Stevens

3/26/2012

With Stevens’ population of female students hovering around 30 percent, some outsiders may assume that the undergraduate experience would be an isolating experience for women. But the reflections of four alumnae – including two who weren’t even the minority within their own families – prove differently.

Lauren Buroojy and Katie Weatherall, both Business & Technology majors who graduated in the Class of 2008, share the distinction of being the first daughters of female alumnae to have graduated from Stevens. Their mothers, Karen Buroojy ’76 and Maureen Weatherall ’78, were members of some of the earliest Stevens classes to enroll female undergraduates.

The fact that by the time the first female graduates were old enough to have college-aged daughters, not one – but two – enrolled at their mother’s alma mater is evidence of the strength of the Stevens experience and demonstrates the positive impact of the University on generations of women.

While the experiences of these four accomplished alumnae were distinct and unique, they all look back fondly on the close-knit community, rich campus life, challenging research environment and enriching academic opportunities, all of which made Stevens feel like … well … part of the family.

Maureen and Katie Weatherall

Maureen has been an integral part of the Stevens community for almost 40 years – as a student, alumna, volunteer, senior staff member and parent. Like many of her pioneering female peers in the 1970s, she was an instant leader on campus, serving as the first female president of Khoda and participating in a wide variety of other activities.

“Although women weren’t as fully integrated into campus life as they are today, and there weren’t very many of us in terms of numbers, we were an extraordinarily strong group,” she said.

After graduating, Maureen managed a variety of departments at AT&T Long Lines, but left the workforce when she and husband, Jim – a Stevens classmate from the Class of 1978 – had a son, Jimmy. A few years later, having maintained numerous ties to her alma mater, Maureen began volunteering her time to recruit women to Stevens, and was soon hired full-time as the Director of Admissions. Twenty-one years have passed, and Maureen is now one of the most senior leaders on campus, serving as Vice President of University Administration & Enrollment.

Given her mother’s deep lifelong involvement, daughter Katie was directly touched by the University from an early age. In addition to her alumni parents, a cousin and an aunt earned degrees from Stevens and other cousins worked in the Admissions office. Katie’s babysitters were Stevens students and she cheered on the Ducks at countless athletic events, gaining a real sense of the community and all it had to offer.

“I always had a very high regard for Stevens and it was a big part of my life growing up,” Katie said. “I always joked to my mom that I’d follow in her footsteps, and it actually came true.”

Although Maureen encouraged Katie to explore other choices for college, she was thrilled when her daughter chose Stevens.

“I always say there are two things I am most proud of in life: my children and Stevens,” said Maureen. “The fact that I have those things in combination is incredible.”

Katie chose Stevens over her other top choice, Cornell, because of its general business program and strong equestrian team. Like her mother, she was actively involved on campus as a standout on the equestrian team and a member of both SGA and Khoda.

Thanks to the evolution of the women’s experience at Stevens, Katie and her female peers were deeply integrated into all aspects of campus and academic life. In fact, during her freshman year, which fell 30 years after Maureen’s, Katie was one of the first women to live in Davis Hall, a residence hall which until that year was male-only.

“I think the campus community has grown quite a bit since my mother was a student,” Katie said. “There is much more diversity and many more activities for people with all different interests. Our experiences were certainly very different.”

After graduation, while her Business & Technology classmates snagged jobs on Wall Street, Katie took an alternate route, pursuing her lifelong dream of riding professionally. For a year, she worked for show facilities, competing up and down the east coast, training young riders, and exercising and grooming horses.

When she ultimately made the life-changing decision to become an equine surgeon, Katie returned for a post-baccalaureate year at Stevens, earning additional undergraduate credits needed to apply to veterinary school. Stevens professors and staff worked tirelessly with her to design an individual curriculum that helped her gain acceptance to the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she currently is enrolled in the Class of 2015.

“They helped me make up my own program so I could pick up the classes I needed,” Katie said.

Maureen said seeing her daughter’s Stevens support network at work was not only rewarding as a parent and an alumnae, but an excellent reminder of the commitment to students she strives to instill throughout all Stevens faculty and staff in her leadership role today.

“That Katie was able to customize her education to allow her to pursue her passion, and receive the support to do so, was unique. It’s so indicative of the culture here,” Maureen said.

Maureen and Katie said sharing the Stevens experience has made them closer as mother and daughter. And no one in their family is left out. Jimmy, a Harvard graduate, recently earned his Ph.D. from Stevens, completing the family circle of graduates.

“Jimmy always said a Harvard degree wouldn’t make his parents proud – only a Stevens degree would,” Maureen joked. “And maybe he was right!”

Karen and Lauren Buroojy

When Karen Buroojy came to Stevens as a freshman, she wasn’t initially aware that as a member of the Class of 1976 she was a part of the University’s second class of undergraduate women. She just wanted to study math and engineering, and Stevens – which had an excellent reputation in those fields and was within commuting distance to home – seemed like the place to do it.

“It came as kind of a shock,” said Karen, who has worked as a contract estimator for a construction company, a production manager in the pharmaceutical industry, and now volunteers for local school boards.

A Civil Engineering major, Karen said she faced a number of issues as one of the few women on campus, primarily facilities-related challenges. At first, Stevens had no locker room for women and female students were only allowed to live in one residence hall.

“I’d say it was a challenge, but that only made me more determined to excel in my classes and stand out as a student,” she said.

Lauren – who played on Stevens’ top-ranked women’s soccer team – had a vastly different experience, only a small part of which was access to a female-only locker room. She initially checked out at Stevens at her mother’s request, but chose to enroll after visiting campus and getting a better sense of the people, activities and opportunities. She was especially impressed with the careers other students – especially other athletes – went onto after graduation.

“Seeing what other student-athletes had achieved in their careers made the experience seem really tangible to me,” she said.

Besides having a larger group of “guy friends” then her high school classmates at other schools, being in a male-dominated environment wasn’t something Lauren thought much about.

“It was apparent, I guess, but it wasn’t a hindrance,” Lauren said. “It was nothing that slowed me down or really stuck out or stopped me from being involved in things.”

Lauren studied Business & Technology, like her father, who is also a Stevens alum. While at Stevens, she secured an internship through Career Services at J.P. Morgan, which turned into her first full-time job. Today she is a business analyst at the leading financial services company.

Karen and Lauren look back fondly at their shared Stevens experience.

“Being alumni, I think my parents understood my journey better than others,” Karen said. “Even though it was so different back then, they’d been here and were aware of what I was going through.”

Karen especially appreciated the change to witness Lauren’s soccer career, frequently coming back to campus to watch her games.

“It was a lot of fun to go back and see Stevens from a parent’s perspective … especially knowing about all of the secret parking spots!” Karen joked.

Follow more coverage of the 40th anniversary of women at Stevens at www.stevens.edu/women.