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100 years and counting: Engineering alumnae embrace legacy of Auburn’s female trailblazers

AUBURN — Maria Whitson made history in May 1923 as the first woman to graduate from the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn University. Today, 100 years later, Auburn Engineering alumnae are still making waves across the state of Alabama.

When Whitson, a native of Talladega, became the first woman to enroll in engineering, she was applauded by her male classmates in the “Glomerata” for being “a very fine sport.” Whitson graduated with high honors in electrical engineering and worked at Alabama Power, though she also received offers from General Electric and Westinghouse.

Today, Paula Marino, ’92 and ’95 electrical engineering, serves as the senior vice president of operations and business shared services at Southern Company, the parent company of Alabama Power.

“I believe that the women who came before us paved the way for our success in ways that we’ll never know,” Marino said. “In those 100 years, there were so many challenges they had to overcome. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the women who came before me.

“They inspire me to do the same thing for the young women who will come after me.”

For Marino, who spoke at Auburn’s 2023 spring commencement ceremony, recognizing those who came before her also empowers her to make positive change for others.

“Our mission at Southern Company is to provide our customers with clean, safe, reliable and affordable power, while making our communities better and our states stronger,” said Marino, who grew up in Enterprise. “Auburn shares this same mission of having a positive impact on our state and communities. It’s easy to see how they both make a difference in our state and our nation.”

Marino gives back in numerous ways across Auburn’s campus, especially as a voice for women pursuing engineering. She serves on the Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Council, on the Alumni Engineering Council and is a member of Auburn Engineering’s 100+ Women Strong program. She has also mentored young engineers through initiatives such as iCan, Southern Nuclear North American Young Generation in Nuclear, Society of Women Engineers and Women in Generation.

Twin sisters Melody George-Jones and Mellany George, both ’05 fiber engineering, are also making positive change in Alabama through their civilian careers as engineers, as well as their service as commissioned officers in the Navy Reserve.

George, a senior mission assurance engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp. in Huntsville, believes there are opportunities available to anyone who wants to build a meaningful career in Alabama, as she has done.

“You can be any engineering discipline and get a job here in Huntsville,” George said. “Working in the defense and aerospace industry, I meet people from all over the U.S. and when they visit Huntsville, they want to stay here. Alabama has so much to offer.”

George-Jones started her career with Schlumberger Oil Field Services in Cleburne, Texas, but in 2009 came back home to Alabama where she is now at Northrop Grumman as senior principal systems engineer. For her, representation has been a major part of her success.

“If you don’t see someone who looks like you, it can be harder to achieve your goals,” George-Jones said. “The first person who achieves a goal is also the one who makes it achievable for others. By myself, I can only go so far. But now that I know others who have accomplished what I want to do, I can build upon that and accomplish what they have.”

Her sister agrees.

“I love the saying ‘lift as you climb,'” George said. “As I climb my career ladder, I want to help someone else behind me fulfill their potential.”

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