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#IAmNYAS: Ethel Romm

Working in engineering and construction since World War II, Academy Member Ethel Romm brings a unique energy and perspective to our Lyceum Society.

Published October 24, 2016

#IAmNYAS: Ethel Romm

Whether she's chatting with fellow Members of the Academy's Lyceum Society, visiting with one of her three sons, or working on a new book, Ethel Romm brings excitement and energy to everything she does. Currently serving as the Co-Chair of the Lyceum Society, which organizes lectures and events for retired scientists, Ethel is not only an active part of our community, she's also a dedicated supporter of the Academy.

Learn more about Ethel below.

How did you get into engineering and construction as a career?

All the young men of my generation went to war. At the time, the fate of young women was to stay in the kitchen. But who was going to do all the work? It wasn't only Rosie the Riveter. The government had a marvelous idea: trade schools. They made a special course for girls and the very first subject was soldering. The girl next to me was immediately an expert. We all found what we were good at. The fourth period class was blueprint reading. I don't notice that everyone else was confused, they were all looking at it like it was Greek. But I found what I was good at.

The first time I sat in the engineering room, they said, "Please draw this gear." I didn't know what a gear was, but I found a book on the shelf above the Chief Engineer's drafting table called, Gears. It didn't take them long to find out I didn't know anything, but I followed the drawings and they were willing to teach me. Over the next few months they made a draftsman of me.

I had to ask for every raise I ever got. Later I worked for a big engineering firm that made power transformers for General Electric. When I learned that I had the most billable hours, I said, "I assume I'm being paid the most?" I wasn't, so I asked for a raise. They knew I could get a job somewhere else quickly.

Later on, as a manager, I got a bright idea. I had a crew and I put them in order of how useful they were to our group. The smartest one in my crew was 17 and he was the lowest paid person. I was so mad at myself so I gave him a bonus. I realized if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.

Tell us a bit about your children, all of whom work in the sciences.

I have three sons, all of them very interesting people. The youngest Joe, has a PhD in Physics from MIT. He's now an authority on global warming. The middle one is a physician, and the youngest one is in computers.

How did you become involved with the Academy?

I went to a lecture early on and since the Lyceum Society was an organized group I began going regularly. One day the President of the Lyceum Society said his wife was moving and he had to leave. The group elected me to be President. One of the other Members told me at the time, "You know, this is a lifetime job!"

I'm probably the only one who doesn't have a PhD-most of them are Professors Emeritus. The idea is to make a program that makes everyone want to come-whatever we are, we're social mammals. We need to talk to each other, argue, ask questions.

How does your involvement with the Academy impact your life?

There's no substitute for being with smart people. It brings out the best in us, it reminds you of what you were like when you were younger. You see people who are in their 80s and 90s doing original work and it makes you think, "I could do that, too!"

What would you say to encourage others to support the Academy?

I do more than support them, I have an annuity-I made the Academy a beneficiary. I encourage everyone in the Lyceum Society to give.

What would you say to your fellow Members to encourage them to engage in planned giving with the Academy?

There are a lot of places that need your money, but the Academy should be at the top of your list. Why? Because there aren't a lot of places that are thinking all the time, where there aren't political agendas, religious agendas, etc. And they bring people together around science.

Join Ethel in building on your legacy within the sciences by becoming a Member of the Academy’s 1817 Heritage Society. Learn more here.