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StoryCorps In Kansas City — Breaking Into The Male-Dominated World Of Engineering

Michelle Bertuglia-Haley (left) and Lynn Bertuglia talked about overcoming gender barriers in engineering at the StoryCorps Mobile Tour in Kansas City.

StoryCorps' MobileBooth came to Kansas City to collect the stories and memories of residents. This is one in a series of stories KCUR has chosen to highlight.

"What was it like being the only woman in most of your classes?" Michelle Bertuglia-Haley asked her mother, Lynn Bertuglia.

In the 1970s, it was uncommon for engineering programs in U.S. colleges to accept women. But the University of Kansas did, so Bertuglia decided to give it a shot.

"There were a couple of professors that had a hard time with [my gender]," Bertuglia said. "But the first day I was there, the head of the program called me into his office and said, 'Whatever it takes, we're going to make sure you're successful.'"

When she graduated, Bertuglia found more challenges. As a recruiter drove her to an interview, Bertuglia faced inappropriate questions.

"He said, 'You know, we can put an end to this right here. We'll hire you, why don't you and I go off and have some fun?'" Bertuglia remembered. "Of course I said, 'No, thank you.'"

Another moment Bertuglia remembers is when she became pregnant with Michelle. Her boss, a cigar-smoking man named Lester, called her into his office and gave her a curt talk.

"He proceeded to tell me that being pregnant was no excuse for being late for work, for missing work, for being sick, for leaving early," Bertuglia said. "He expected exactly the same level of performance for me that he expected before I was pregnant."

In a way, Bertuglia appreciated Lester's bluntness.

"People now hear that story and think, 'Oh my god, that's horrible,' but you know what? It wasn't. He was telling me right up front: This is my expectation," Bertuglia said.

"You can do this work," Michelle added.

"I learned so much from that," Bertuglia said. "And I'm also grateful for the role models I had who are women, who had beautiful families, wonderful marriages and were very successful in a holistic sense."

The most important lesson she learned from those women? 

"Delegate ... you can't be the one to do everything," Bertuglia said with a laugh.

Matthew Long-Middleton is a community producer for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @MLMIndustries.

Cody Newill is an audience development specialist for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
Matthew Long-Middleton has been a talk-show producer, community producer, Media Training Manager and now the Community Engagement Manager at KCUR. You can reach him at Matthew@kcur.org, or on Twitter @MLMIndustries.
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