In honor of alumnus Clarence E. Davies, Class of 1914, the Rensselaer School of Engineering established the Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement in 1980. The medal is given to a recipient who has had an exceptional career in engineering, commitment to public service, and made outstanding technical and managerial accomplishments. This year, Nancy D. Fitzroy, Class of 1949, received the Davies Medal on May 5 in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Auditorium. Part of the ceremony included comments from President Shirley Ann Jackson.
Fitzroy was the first woman to receive a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer, and worked at General Electric from 1950 until 1987. She is internationally recognized as a specialist in heat transfer and fluid flow. In 1986, Fitzroy became the first female president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Fitzroy earned the Demers Medal for outstanding service to Rensselaer in 1975, the Distinguished Service Award from the Alumni Association in 1996, and was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame in 1999. The Nancy Fitzroy Scholarship Fund, established by Fitzroy in 1979, encourages young women to pursue careers in science and technology, and continues to help female students attending RPI.
Jackson stated Fitzroy was worthy of the award, “Because [her] vision and leadership have contributed so much to the development of technology and its application in the field of heat transfer; because [she] have had such an impact as a powerful example and voice for engineering, particularly for women in engineering; and because [she exemplifies] what we mean at Rensselaer, when we say to our students, ‘Why not change the world?’ Rensselaer bestows upon [her] its highest honor in engineering achievement.” In addition to her achievements in her career, Fitzroy was also one of the first women to become a helicopter pilot.
After Jackson presented Fitzroy with the award, the two sat down and discussed Fitzroy’s life as a successful female engineer because she did not want to give a long speech. Fitzroy said that she always had “an insatiable curiosity” as a young child and that her parents gave her challenges to encourage her curiosity. Fitzroy stated that she actually didn’t want to go to college, but her parents forced her to go, with her assistant principal encouraging her to enter the engineering field. Speaking about her time at RPI, Fitzroy stated that her experience was “rather ordinary” and that she excelled in classes that involved hands-on learning.
The audience was then allowed to ask Fitzroy questions. One member asked who Fitzroy aspired to be like; she stated she wanted to be like Amelia Earhart because she flew airplanes and it looked like fun, which is what lead to her pursue becoming a pilot. Another member wondered if there was anything that Fitzroy would change about the education of future engineers. Fitzroy said that she likes how engineering is becoming more of an interdisciplinary field, rather than keeping the fields separate. She said that working in teams is what made being an engineer fun, and the idea of interdisciplinary engineering is necessary for a satisfactory result.
The ceremony ended with Jackson asking Fitzroy how she sees her legacy. Fitzroy laughed and said that she doesn’t think of herself as leaving a legacy, that she was “just doing [her] thing.” Jackson responded saying that is her legacy; she did her thing.