Sharon Tinker

Sharon Tinker

Sharon Tinker was born in 1958 in the small town of Manchester, IA. Her father was a farmer and her mother was a homemaker. During her childhood, she was a very active participant in her local 4H club, learning about a range of topics from food safety to photography. When asked in elementary school what she wanted to be when she grew up she said that she was interested in becoming a schoolteacher, a cowgirl, or a nun. Tinker graduated from West Delaware High School in 1976.  

She chose to attend the University of Iowa to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. She excelled during her time here, being on the Dean’s List her sophomore year. She also participated in several activities including Associated Students of Engineering, the Engineering Open House Committee, the Society of Women Engineers, and the University of Iowa Radiation Protection Committee. When she graduated in 1980 she was interested in finding a management position with special interests in process engineering, production, research, and development.  

After graduation, Tinker found a job as a Performance Chemicals Engineer at Exxon. She has stayed with that company, moving from Texas, to Louisiana, and all the way to Singapore as part of her many assignments. She has been recognized for her accomplishments, receiving many awards including the ExxonMobil Chemical Responsible Care Award, the ExxonMobil Chemical Global Manufacturing Award, and the Young Engineer of the Year Award from the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. She has stayed connected with the University of Iowa, establishing the Sharon K. Tinker Process Safety Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, which is currently held by C. Allan Guymon. She was inducted into the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni in August of 2020.  


Works Cited

Sharon Tinker papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.-a). Sharon K. Tinker Process Safety Professorship in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.-b). Sharon Tinker. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (2016, November 30). Engineering Alumna Tinker to Receive Dean’s Award for Distinguished Service. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

Margaret S. Petersen

Margaret S. Petersen

Professor Margaret S. Petersen was born in Rock Island, Illinois in 1920. After graduating from high school, she started at Augustana College in her home town in 1938, but eventually transitioned to taking classes part-time in evening school. In 1942, she joined the Army Corps of Engineers as a draftsman for the Rock Island District. In December of that year, she was became one of ten draftsmen who were chosen to work on the Three Locks Project in Panama. While in Panama, she saved money to return to school full time, and also met Irene Miller, a fellow draftsman who would become her lifelong friend. (The pictures below are from their senior book in 1947)

Margaret Petersen
Irene Miller

After returning to the States, Margaret and Irene started at the University of Iowa. They were among the first women to graduate from the College of Engineering and both earned degrees in Civil Engineering in February of 1947. Still working for the Army Corps of Engineers, Petersen moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where she worked on the Mississippi Basin Model. She returned to the University a few years later and earn an M.S. in Mechanics and Hydraulics in 1953. She would remain with the Army Corps of Engineers for many years, moving around the country on different assignments, including projects on the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas Rivers. 

In 1980, Petersen joined the faculty of Arizona State University as a visiting associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. During her time there she worked to develop several graduate courses, and wrote the textbook River Engineering. Petersen was appointed as an Emerita Associate Professor in 1991, but did not completely retire from teaching until 1997. Throughout her career she received many awards and recognitions including the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Hunter Rouse Hydraulic Engineering Award and the Environmental and Water Resources Institute’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. The Environmental and Water Resources Institute also established the Margaret Petersen Outstanding Woman of the Year Award in her honor.  

Sources Cited

In Memoriam: Margaret Petersen, P.E., F.ASCE, Hon.D.WRE. (2018, September 12). Civil and Architectural Engineering and Mechanics | The University of Arizona.

Sacramento District Army Corps of Engineers. (2013, March 4). Pioneering woman engineer leaves adventurous, enduring legacy.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.). Prof. Margaret S. Petersen. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.


Dr. Kook-Wha Koh

Dr. Kook-Wha Koh

This week we are featuring successful chemical engineer and entrepreneur Dr. Kook-Wha Koh. Born in Korea, Kook-Wha studied Chemical Engineering at Seoul National University. She and her childhood sweetheart Kwang-Kuk Koh came to the US in 1965 to further their study in chemical engineering at the University of Iowa. They chose Iowa because of their interest in membrane separations, which was being pioneered at the time by department chair Karl Kammermeyer. Kook-Wha earned her PhD in Chemical  Engineering in 1970 with her thesis “Crystallinity and Denisty in Permeation of Carbon Dioxide and water Vapor through Polymers.” Following their time at Iowa, the Drs. Koh moved down to Texas where Kook-Wha completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Rice University where she worked with heart surgery pioneer Michael DeBakey on his work with artificial hearts. 

After Texas the Koh’s moved to Detroit where Kook-Wha established Chrysan Industries in 1977, headquartered in Plymouth, MI. Chrysan (which is the Korean word for chrysanthemum) is a global supplier of automotive, industrial, and aerospace lubricants and specialty chemicals. In 1980 the company was  awarded its first patent – #4,218,329 – in metalworking fluid technology. The company also holds patents metalworking fluid technology, “formulated cutting oils, and synthetic coolants.” The company supplies to General Motors and Ford, and exports and distributes their products in Asia, Africa and South America. 

Kook-Wha has now retired, and she and her husband spend their time traveling. They have the goal of visiting all of National Geographic’s 50 places everyone should see in their lifetime. They also use their retirement to “promote and ensure equal opportunities for minority business enterprises and women-owned businesses.”

Works Cited

Chrysan Industries. (n.d.). Chrysan Industries, Inc. Global Supplier of Automotive Lubricants and Specialty Chemicals.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.). Drs. Kwang-Kuk and Kook-Wha Koh. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

Avery L. Bang

Avery Bang

Avery Bang is putting her engineering skills to work to create social and economic opportunities by building bridges. The daughter of a civil engineer, Bang learned the importance of infrastructure early in life. Bang graduated from the University of Iowa in 2007 with dual degrees in Civil Engineering and Studio Art. In addition to her degrees from Iowa, she has a MS in Civil Engineering from Colorado University Boulder, and an MBA from the University of Oxford. While here at Iowa, she worked as a research assistant at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering and completed an internship in structural engineering. She was very involved in student organizations, and was the president of Engineers for a Sustainable World, and founded Iowa’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. 

During a study abroad trip to Fiji, Bang saw the impact a well-placed bridge could make. In an interview for the film “Dream Big,” Bang said “One of the communities had recently opened a footbridge development project, and I was able to see firsthand how a simple bridge was transforming their everyday world. People could get to the doctor, to schools, and to markets they could never have reached before. I directly experienced how structures change people’s lives. That’s when I really started taking engineering seriously – it became both a passion and a purpose for me.” The next year, Bang joined Bridges to Prosperity, establishing their University program. In two semesters, she and a team built a bridge in a remote area of Peru.

A 2019 bridge project in Bolivia

Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) was founded in 2001 with the mission to build bridges to connect rural communities to medical, academic, and economic opportunities using bridges that span rivers, valleys, and other geographic obstacles. According to their website, their projects have impacted 1.3 million people. Benefits of these project include, a 12% increase in enrollment in school, an 18% increase in medical visits, and a 30% increase in labor income and 75% increase in farm profits for the community. They have completed projects in Rwanda, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Bolivia. These projects partner with local communities to ensure that these bridges are monitored and maintained regularly.

Avery is now the President and CEO of B2P and has given several public talks, including a TEDTalk at TedWomen 2017.


Works Cited

Bang, A. (n.d.). Avery Bang. Hi, I’m Avery.

Bridges to Prosperity. (n.d.). Bridges to Prosperity: The global leader in rural infrastructure development.

Dream Big. (2016, December 23). Avery Bang. Dream Big: Engineering Our World.

University of Iowa Civil and Environmental Engineering. (2015, December 18). Alumna Avery Bang Honored as One of 15 Inspiring Women CEOs that Impacted The World In 2015 | Civil and Environmental Engineering.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.). Avery L. Bang. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

Captain Luther H. Smith

Capt. Luther H. Smith

Luther H. Smith was born in Des Moines, September 27, 1920, and grew up in a loving family with eight siblings. He knew he loved flying from a very young age. When he was 11 years old, he and his brother found $5 in a field. He convinced his brother to use their newfound fortune to pay a pilot to take them on a flight. After this, he would walk 5 miles to and from the airport where he would do odd jobs for anyone who needed it, and hope that they would take him on a flight in appreciation. 

In 1938, Smith enrolled at the University of Iowa, where he studied mechanical engineering. The United States had not yet joined World War II, but at that point it was clear that a large number of pilots would be needed in the near future. As a result, Civilian Pilot Training Programs were established on campuses across the country in 1939. Smith knew that at that point, the U.S. military did not allow African Americans to serve as pilots, but he was determined to be prepared. He joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program and earned his pilot’s license in 1940. He was on of the first Black Americans do to so. 

After joining WWII, the military changed their tune, and allowed Black men to serve as pilots, and in 1942, Smith would enlist in the Army Air Corps in September 1942 and become one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. He served in the 332nd Fighter Group of the 302nd Fighter Squadron. Smith joined the war effort in Europe in January of 1944, based out of Italy. By October of that year, he had flown 133 missions.

Smith and his brother Howard on a military base in Italy, 1944.

On October 13, 1944, Smith’s plane, a P-47 Mustang, was hit during an escort mission over Yugoslavia. He would later say of that day “I flew 133 missions. On the last one, I didn’t make it back. It was Friday the 13th. It was my lucky day – I’m still alive.” He was able to bail out of the plane, but fell through trees, and landed on a branch, fracturing his hip. he was captured as a Prisoner of War and taken to a military hospital. Soon after, he was moved to Stalag XVIII-A, a prisoner of war camp in southern Austria. He would remain a POW for seven months, and was liberated in early May of 1945. At the time of his rescue, he weight only 70 pounds. He returned to the States, where his recovery and rehabilitation would take an additional 2 years and require 18 surgeries. He would be left with lifelong health issues. In 1947, Smith retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Captain. He was the recipient of many medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, the Prisoner of War Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Purple Heart, and the WWII Victory Medal. 

Smith returned to Iowa City and completed his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering in 1950. He moved to Schenectady, NY to take a job with General Electric, where he would also be active in the local chapter of the NAACP. He later accepted a position with the company that moved him and his wife to Philadelphia, PA where he earned a Masters degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Penn State. Smith would work for GE for 37 years. He held two U.S. Patents on dynamic sealing devices in aircraft, regularly published technical papers, and worked on projects with the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and U.S. Navy Submarine Command.

In 2000, he began speaking publicly about his time in the war, including about the impact of racial inequality in the military. He accompanied president Bill Clinton on a trip to Europe to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. In 2006, Tuskegee University awarded him with an honorary doctorate. He was part of the Architect-Engineer Evaluation Jury for the National World War II Memorial in Washington. In 2007 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service as part of the Tuskegee Airmen. Captain Smith passed away in 2009 at the age of 89 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


Works Cited:

American Air Museum in Britain. (n.d.). Luther H Smith | American Air Museum in Britain.

CAF Rise Above. (2018, October 17). Luther H. Smith.

Iowa Aviation Museum. (n.d.). Luther H. Smith – Iowa Aviation Museum.

Saylor, T. (2005, February 18). Oral History Project World War II Years, 1941–1946 – Luther Smith, Jr. DigitalCommons@CSP.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.). Luther H. Smith. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

University of Iowa Libraries. (n.d.). UI Collection Guides -Civilian Pilot Training Program Records, 1942–1944.

Archibald A. Alexander

Archibald Alexander

Archibald (Archie) Alphonse Alexander was born in Ottumwa in 1888, one of eight children. His father provided for his family, working as a custodian. When Alexander was 11, his family moved to a small farm on the outskirts of Des Moines. His father was promoted to head custodian for the Des Moines National Bank, and the extra income allowed Alexander and his siblings to attend school. Alexander graduated from Oak Park High School at the age of 17. Although there were not sufficient funds to support him, Alexander was determined to be a college graduate, specifically, an engineer. He started in higher education at Highland Park College in Des Moines. His freshman year had gone well, but when it came time to prepare for his sophomore year, Alexander learned that the school had banned Black students, on account to students from the South leaving due to the classes being integrated. Alexander decided to move to Iowa City and start at the University of Iowa at 20. 

Alexander, who had been a standout athlete in high school, brought his skills to Iowa City, joining the University of Iowa Football Team and started for the first three years of his career. From a biography on Alexander from the American Society of Civil Engineers, Alexander was “considered a giant of a man at 6 feet 2 inches and 180 pounds, at a time when the average college football player was 5 feet 7 inches and weighed 135 pounds, Archie was popular with both fans and teammates who nicknamed him ‘Alexander the Great,’ both for his size and his athletic prowess” (Weingardt, 2009). Alexander also made an impact in the classroom. While his professors were supportive, the dean at the time was skeptical of Alexander’s future success, as he had never seen a successful Black engineer.

Alexander graduated in 4 years at the age of 24 in 1912, earning a BA in Civil Engineering, a varsity letter in football, and working multiple jobs to support himself. He was the first Black graduate from the College of Engineering. He moved back to Des Moines where he joined the Marsh Engineering Company. The founder, James B. Marsh had made his name by designing the Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge. His time with Marsh’s company have a major impact on his career, which would focus on bridge building. In 1914, Alexander struck out on his own and founded A.A. Alexander, Inc., where he intended to only work on bridge building. At the beginning, winning contracts proved difficult, as many people were not open to working with a firm run by Black man, especially if other firms also bid. As a result, for the first few years A.A. Alexander, Inc. would design build only small bridge projects where they were the only bidders. Alexander was able to build his reputation, and eventually started winning larger projects. 

A few years into his business, Alexander was joined in business by George F. Higbee in a unique but effective interracial partnership. (This Higbee is not to be confused with Frederic Goodson Higbee, Professor and Head of Engineering Drawing, whose portrait hangs in the library here). Alexander would again be the sole proprietor of his company after Higbee was killed in a construction accident in the early 1920’s. During this time, he expanded the firm’s portfolio, building tunnels and power plants. Current students and members of the Iowa City community can see Alexander’s work in the University of Iowa Power Plant, completed in the mid 1920’s. This project also included steam tunnels that traveled under the Iowa River, providing steam and heat to the new west campus, including the Hospital and Field House.

University of Iowa Power Plant, designed by A. Alexander, soon after construction in 1927 (from Iowa Digital Library)

Alexander’s time working in Iowa City would further impact his life when he was joined in business by Maurice Repass. Repass had graduated one year after Alexander and been a member of the football team. Alexander and Repass would take on several large projects across the country, from Michigan, Nebraska, the Tuskegee Institute and even Washington, DC. One of their most recognizable projects is the Kutz Bridge, completed in 1943. If you have ever visited DC to see the cherry blossoms in bloom, or looked out over the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, you have likely seen Kutz Bridge.

Kutz Memorial Bridge at the DC Tidal Basin


A lifelong Republican, Alexander worked his whole life to improve the lives people of color. In Des Moines he helped to found the local chapter of the NAACP in 1944. He also served on the boards of Howard University and the Tuskegee Institute, both historically Black institutes. He and his wife Audra often vacationed in the Caribbean, and after his backing of Eisenhower’s successful presidential campaign, he was tapped to be the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, his work there was not well received, and his time in the Virgin Islands lasted a little over a year. He would pass away in Des Moines on January 4, 1958 at the age of 70, leaving behind a legacy of hard work. Upon his wife’s death, the Archie A. Alexander Memorial Scholarship was established at the University of Iowa. 

Works Cited

Jones, J. (2019, June 28). Archibald Alphonso Alexander: African American Design and Construction Genius. Black Then.

Landis, L. (2021, March 4). Iowa History Month: Archie Alexander built equality across the nation. Des Moines Register.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.). Archibald A. Alexander. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

Weingardt, R. G. (2009). Archibald Alphonso Alexander. Leadership and Management in Engineering, 9(4), 207–211.

Dr. Philip G. Hubbard

Dr. Philip G. Hubbard

Philip G. Hubbard was born in Macon, Missouri, but moved to the Des Moines area when he was four years old. According to his book My Iowa Journey, his mother gave up her career as a teacher to move north so that Philip and his three brothers could attend unsegregated schools. While the schools were unsegregated for students, African American teachers were not allowed, so she instead found a job as an elevator operator. Hubbard’s mother was a major influence in his life, and she used her background in education to prepare him for school.

When he graduated from North High School in Des Moines, Hubbard considered several career paths, but ultimately chose engineering because it offered opportunities for advancement and could be finished in four years – which was all that Hubbard could afford. In addition, as a teenager he met University of Iowa College of Engineering alumnus Archie Alexander, who was living proof that an African American engineer could be successful. 

Hubbard arrived in Iowa City in 1940 with $252.50 in savings and took on a job shining shoes in the basement of the Jefferson Hotel, where he would study between customers. College life provided new opportunities, but racism did keep him from enjoying all of them. For example, he had to find his own lodgings, as he was not to live in the dormitories. In his book, Hubbard notes that he was lucky at the College of Engineering. While his friends in other departments experienced racism within their colleges, Hubbard felt welcomed and supported, especially by Dean Francis M. Dawson, who helped him secure a work study position at the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research (IIHR).

Hubbard had no background in chemistry, as it was not offered at his high school. Seeking a challenge, he decided to major in chemical engineering. After a rough start, he would come to distinguish himself, winning the junior prize in chemistry and joining several honorary societies and fraternities. In May of 1943, Hubbard, who had joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps of the Army, was called up to report to Camp Dodge for active duty. As part of his service he was sent to Penn State where he took on study of electrical engineering. In 1944, Hubbard graduated with honors with a certificate in electrical engineering. In 1945 Dean Dawson arranged for him to leave the army and return to the University of Iowa to do military research. Hubbard received his degree in electrical engineering in January 1946. He would continue to work at IIHR, and earned his Masters in mechanics and hydraulics in 1949 and a Ph.D. in engineering in 1954. 

Hubbard joined the faculty of University of Iowa, becoming an assistant professor of mechanics and hydraulics and continuing his work at IIHR as a research engineer. In 1959, he was promoted to full professor, becoming the first fully tenured African American professor at the University. During this time of growth in his career, Hubbard was working towards equality within the college and his field. In his memoir, he recalls being invited to speak at a conference in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1951. After initially accepting the invitation, Hubbard had to turn it down, as the hotel had strict segregation rules. While Hubbard would have been allowed to speak, he would have had to take the service elevator to the room to present his speech then leave immediately after. Hubbard turned down this opportunity, noting that this situation was “unacceptable.”

In 1966, Hubbard was chosen to serve as Dean of Academic Affairs, which made him the first African American Dean at any of Iowa’s state universities. In 1971, he would achieve another first when he was named as Vice President of Student Services, which made him the first vice president at any Big Ten university. He used these positions to advocate for minority students, establishing Opportunity at Iowa to help retain minority students and faculty. He would retire from the university in 1990, having worked there for 43 years. In 1991, the field next to the Iowa Memorial Union previously known as Union Field was renamed Hubbard Field in his honor. 

Hubbard passed away at the age of 80 on January 10, 2002. If you want to learn more about Hubbard’s life in his own words, you can read his book online through the Iowa Digital Library.


Works Cited

Hubbard, P. G., & Stone, A. E. (1999). My Iowa Journey: The Life Story of the University of Iowa’s First Tenured African American Professor (1st ed.). University Of Iowa Press.

Philip G. Hubbard Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa. Accessed February 10, 2022.

University of Iowa College of Engineering. (n.d.). Philip G. Hubbard. College of Engineering – The University of Iowa.

Dr. Lilia A. Abron

Dr. Lilia Abron

Dr. Lilia A. Abron was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 8, 1945 and grew up in the segregated South. She followed in her parents’ footsteps, attending LeMoyne College. Her college career did not begin well, with Abron losing her scholarship after her grades slipped and she lost her scholarship. During her sophomore year, she found her passion and switched to a chemistry major. She would go on to graduate from LeMoyne in 1966 with distinction. Her mentors at LeMoyne suggested that she study engineering, which led Abron to Washington University in St. Louis. There, she would earn her M.S. in sanitary engineering. She entered the professional field, working in sanitary departments in Kansas City and Chicago. 

Dr. Abron graduated from the University of Iowa in 1972, becoming the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. She spent a few years in academia, but after finding it didn’t fit her career goals, she moved on and established PEER Consultants, earning her another first – the first African-American to establish an engineering consultant firm focused on environmental issues. PEER focuses on developing long-term and sustainable solutions for environmental issues.

Abron was inducted into the College of Engineering’s “Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy” in 19996 and received the University of Iowa Hancher-Finkbine Alumni Medallion in 1999. She is also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and has served on the board of several charitable organizations.



American Council of Engineering Companies. (2021, February 17). Black History Month Profile: Lilia Abron, Shattering Glass Ceilings.

PEER Consultants. (n.d.). Our Story. PEER Consultants, P.C.

The History Makers. (n.d.). Lilia Abron’s Biography.

Williams, R. (2022, January 5). Black Women in STEM: Dr. Lilia A. Abron. Owlcation.

Fall in Love at the Engineering Library!

This week is the beginning of February, which means love is in the air! However, it is still winter, so going out to find love may be more difficult than expected. Instead, find love in a book all month long here at the Engineering Library with Blind Date with a Book.

How it works:

  1. Come to the Engineering Library and find the Blind Date with a Book shelf (we’ll point it out to you if you can’t find it!)
  2. Browse the wrapped books and pick one out based on the notes on the outside
  3. Bring the book to the counter and check out like normal. Check out periods are the same as they are for all of our library materials. (Check out this page for more information on our loan policies)
  4. Take the book home, unwrap it, and enjoy!
  5. Fill out the short survey on the bookmark and return the book and bookmark to us

We have a mix of fiction and non-fiction books available to take home. Blind Dates are available all month on a first-come-first-serve basis. Come in and fall in love!

Special thanks to Rita Sonksen, English and American Lit Librarian, who helped with fiction book selection.