A Force of Nature

Laura Dinsmoor, special instructor in computer science and engineering, is named the 2020 recipient of the prestigious Googasian Award

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Photo credit: Robert Hall

icon of a calendarDecember 10, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Arina Bokas

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“She is a force of nature; a person who does not hesitate to speak up on behalf of students when they are too nervous to do so themselves,” says Laila Guessous, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering, about Laura Dinsmoor, BSE’ 81; MS’ 89, special instructor in computer science and engineering and the 2020 recipient of the prestigious Googasian Award. 

The award was created in 1992, in honor of Trustee Emerita Phyllis Law Googasian, to recognize exemplary service and commitment to the advancement of women at Oakland University. 

Those honored by the Googasian Award dedicate a substantial amount of their personal time to advocating for the women of OU, and, subsequently, making a positive difference for the world around them. Dinsmoor is no exception.

“Whether through her work with student organizations, national organizations, groups at OU, or in a one-on-one setting, Laura aims to encourage girls and women to pursue STEM careers, excite them about the opportunities, expose them to new ideas and technologies, stand up for them, and help empower them when they encounter difficulties,” says Dr. Guessous, who nominated Dinsmoor for the award.

Dinsmoor’s passion for the advancement of women in engineering is deeply personal. Growing up in a family of an engineer, Dinsmoor had ambitions that went far beyond the homemaking classes offered to girls in her high school. By the time she was a senior, she was so disappointed with her course selection that she asked the teacher who taught the electronics course to join his class. The school initially opposed this idea because it was for boys only, but after many meetings with multiple administrators, Dinsmoor became the first female to take the class at her school.

“On my first day, the guys teased me to no end; however, soon they learned that I was better than many of them at our assignments and they all wanted me to be on their teams,” recalls Dinsmoor.

Encouraged by her father, Dinsmoor decided to pursue an engineering major at OU, where she once again witnessed how underrepresented women were in this field. “When I walked into a class on the first day, my professors would tell me that the School of Nursing was upstairs. I was terrified that I had made a mistake, but as time went by, I received total support from my classmates,” Dinsmoor says.

After her graduation, Dinsmoor spent almost 20 years in the industrial controller and robotics fields, where she experienced firsthand how difficult it could be for women to work in this male-dominated industry. She credits her husband, Claude, with giving her support and the will to stay. At that time many corporations didn’t allow technical people to work part time. When Dinsmoor asked for the flexibility to work part time so she could raise her two children and was denied, she left corporate life — the decision that brought her back to OU.

“I stopped by the Computer Science and Engineering office in summer of 2000 to see if I could teach a class. I was offered the job on the spot and started a few weeks later. Somehow, I made it through that first summer class even though my teaching experience was minimal and my stress was high. Before I knew it, I had fallen in love with teaching and, even after my kids went to college, I didn’t want to return to industry,” Dinsmoor says.

Propelled by her own experiences, Dinsmoor became actively involved in various committees, assembly meetings and other SECS activities, advocating for girls and women in computer science and engineering.

She has been involved with multiple student organizations, such as Women in Computing @ OU, the Makers at OU, the Society of Women Engineers and TEDx Oakland University.

Over the years, she participated in organizing conferences targeted at recruiting and retaining women in computing science such as the biennial Michigan Celebration of Women in Computing, (MICWIC) and the yearly National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Michigan Aspirations in Computing Conference.

NCWIT awarded Dinsmoor an $8,000 grant to develop a workshop for middle school and high school teachers to recruit girls in the computer science field. Videos from two TEDx Oakland University events that Dinsmoor co-chaired were globally viewed over 3.5 million times.

“The selection committee has been impressed with your leadership in advancing women on campus, with the advocacy work done to promote women, the countless hours spent on mentoring others, and with your efforts to create ways to advance women on campus such as your successful development of a TEDx series,” writes Claudia Petrescu, Ph.D., OU chief strategy officer and MI-ACE institutional representative, in the letter informing Dinsmoor of her award.

When Dinsmoor received the news, she was on the afternoon conference call to select NCWIT Aspirations in Michigan winners. “I thought how appropriate it was; I was working on a program to recognize and encourage young high school girls to go into computer science,” Dinsmoor says.

Dinsmoor's future plans, while not specifically related to this award, include working with students on the Autism spectrum as they pursue the field of computer science. She began working with the Oakland’s Disability Support Services department to create a program to provide student members to students on the spectrum.

Similar to all other outstanding women awarded the Googasian Award, Dinsmoor is the inspiration for others aspiring to follow in her footsteps. She is proving again and again that she is, indeed, a force to be reckoned with.

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