Despite a passion for the arts, Joan Ewing studied chemistry at Nazareth College in Rochester, and went on to become the first woman to complete a PhD in electrical engineering at the University of Rochester in 1973.
This was at a time when less than two percent of engineering doctorate recipients were women. "I had absolutely no thoughts of being any kind of pioneer," she later explained. "But I remember learning from Nazareth professors that we have potentials that can be converted into actuals."
Ewing has converted her potential in many ways.
During a 40-year career as a researcher with Xerox Corp., she has been awarded more than 20 patents.
A hard-of-hearing person since childhood, she has worked actively with community groups to help other persons with the same problem. She has helped churches update their sound systems, for example, and has toured nursing homes to make sure there is equipment for hard-of-hearing residents.
“You learn to be more resourceful when you can’t do certain things,” she told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in an article about her Xerox career.
That career began when Ewing, age 22, joined what was then called The Haloid Corp. “It was small, family-oriented, personal,” Ewing recalled. “Joe Wilson (former Xerox president credited with bringing xerography from the lab to the marketplace) went around shaking hands with everybody. If you did something interesting at work, everybody knew about it. The company was poor. We didn't have a lot of money, but we felt like we were on to something.”
As a researcher of electrical properties and materials at the Joseph C. Wilson Center for Research and Technology in Webster, she spent much of her time towards the end of her career coming up with mathematical formulas for working with prototype electrical devices for new copiers, the newspaper reported.
She has been a staunch supporter of Nazareth College. In 2010 she pledged a $100,000 gift towards a new integrated math and science building after 5,500 of the college’s alumni and friends met her challenge by making contributions of their own.
(Photo provided by Nazareth College.)