Lois Graham and Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb were the first two women to graduate from Rensselaer, on April 22, 1945. The two women and their classmates (as part of the Class of 1946) completed a war-accelerated program in two and a half years.

Lois Graham

Lois Graham

In addition to traditional academic trials, Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb remembered “there were over 400 men to each woman then. There wasn’t a dorm for us so I had to take a room at Russell Sage College…I also remember my dread of climbing all of those stairs on the Approach each day, especially when the mercury was way below zero.”

After graduating, Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb worked for the Chrysler Corporation and married Ed Kolb, Rensselaer Class of 1944. Their daughter, Mary Jane Kolb Stanley, graduated from Rensselaer in 1969 and their son, John Kolb (vice president for information services and technology at Rensselaer), received his degree in 1979.

Mary Ellen Rathbun

Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb

Lois Graham knew that she wanted “a good education and a career in engineering.” She became the first woman in the country to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering (at the Illinois Institute of Technology) and subsequently became a professor at IIT. She was the first woman to receive a fellow award from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, honoring her for contributions as an educator in thermodynamics and cryogenics.

Graham’s career spanned nearly 40 years at IIT, where she developed its model program for Women in Science and Engineering and its Minorities in Engineering Program. In recognition of her leadership in engineering education and her lifelong commitment to the advancement of women in the sciences, she was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003.

Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb: An Oral History

Learn more about Lois Graham

As Rensselaer approaches its 200th year, the Institute is highlighting important milestones of how the world has been transformed by the achievements of Rensselaer people—past and present. Inside Rensselaer is showcasing some of the remarkable achievements and anniversaries throughout the year, including notable milestones and alumni and alumnae accomplishments.