Skip to main content

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Dedication Ceremony

Category: Regional
May, 2019
Nancy Deloye Fitzroy ’49 and Roland V. Fitzroy Jr. Admissions Building
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

I would like to thank all of you for joining us for this very special occasion.

Before I begin, please allow me to introduce members of the Board of Trustees, and my Cabinet who are with us today:

  • Trustee Emeritus, Dr. Neal Barton of the Classes of 1958, 1963, and 1966, and his wife Carolyn;
  • Trustee Emeritus, the Honorable Arthur J. Gajarsa of the Class of 1962;
  • Trustee, Ms. Nancy Mueller; and
  • Trustee and Secretary of the Board, Mr. Curtis R. Priem of the Class of 1982.

Members of my Cabinet:

  • Provost, Dr. Prabhat Hajela;
  • Mr. Craig Cook, Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel;
  • Mr. Graig Eastin, Vice President for Institute Advancement;
  • Dr. Robert Hull, Senior Associate Vice President for Research;
  • Ms. Richie Hunter, Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations;
  • Mr. John Kolb, Vice President for Information Services and Technology, and Chief Information Officer;
  • Dr. Peter Konwerski, Vice President for Student Life;
  • Mr. Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources, and his wife Renee;
  • Mr. Claude Rounds, Vice President for Administration; and
  • Mr. Jonathan Wexler, Vice President for Enrollment Management.

Dr. Nancy Deloye Fitzroy, of the Class of 1949, is a true pioneer—as evidenced, in part, by an illustrious legacy of “firsts.” She is:

  • The first woman to graduate with a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute;
  • The first woman in the United States to serve as president of a major professional engineering society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME); and
  • The first woman to receive the Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement, which recognizes a Rensselaer alumnus or alumna with a distinguished career of engineering achievement, public service, and technical and managerial accomplishments.

There have been a number of other accolades as well. Nancy has been the recipient of the following:

  • The Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1972;
  • The Demers Medal for outstanding service to Rensselaer in 1975;
  • An American Society of Mechanical Engineers Centennial Medallion in 1980;
  • An honorary doctor of science degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1987.
  • In 1988, she was chosen as an Honorary Fellow of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers;
  • In 1990, she received an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Rensselaer;
  • She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1995;
  • Received the Distinguished Service Award from the Rensselaer Alumni Association in 1996; and
  • Was again recognized in 1999 when she was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame;
  • She was elected a fellow of ASME, and received an ASME Honorary Membership in 2008.

Throughout her professional career, Nancy has always taken on the greatest challenges posed by the new and emerging technologies of her time.

How is it that Nancy decided to pursue a career in engineering at a time when there weren’t many women in the field?

Initially, in fact, Nancy did not want to go to college at all. She recalled, “All of the careers that were thought of for women—librarian, secretary, this, that—I crossed them all off!”

As a student, Nancy gravitated toward science and mathematics, fields which she described as “simply fun.” She even gave up a study hall to take a celestial navigation class with her mathematics teacher, Mr. Goodwin. In all of these courses, Nancy was the only female student in class—a situation she would grow accustomed to over the years.

It was Mr. Goodwin who urged Nancy to pursue college and, specifically, to consider an education in engineering.

Nancy wrote to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) asking if they could recommend a school where a young woman might study engineering. Rensselaer and MIT each responded by sending her an application for admission.

Nancy’s parents had always wanted her to attend college, and were thrilled to learn that she had applied and was accepted by both universities!

Of course, we are very pleased that Nancy chose Rensselaer. She recalled that—at the time—she considered herself shy and introverted, and felt she would be more comfortable in the smaller classrooms at Rensselaer. She also felt that Rensselaer had a better undergraduate school than MIT.

In 1945, when Nancy arrived at Rensselaer, she found herself among numerous World War II veterans. She recalled that many were married and had children, and observed how intent they were to make the most of the educational opportunity afforded them by the GI Bill. As in high school, she found herself the only female in her classes, and thought nothing of it.

In 1950, Nancy began her career in Research and Development at General Electric, working at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna. Though she was hired, at first, as an “engineering assistant”— because full-fledged women engineers were unheard of—she soon became known around the world as an expert in heat transfer and fluid flow—and eventually advised many of her male counterparts, once they had worked up the courage to seek out her expertise.

While at Knolls, Nancy contributed to the development of a liquid-metal cooled nuclear reactor that would later be used by the United States Navy for its second nuclear- powered submarine, the USS Seawolf.

Nancy left Knolls to work on a new GE assignment in Malta, New York, called Project Hermes. Under contract from the United States Army, the team’s mission was to design rocket engines. Their efforts focused on advancing technologies that had been initially developed by scientists in Nazi Germany as part of its V2 missile program.

The Malta Test Site, which is now the location of the Malta Tech Park, was carved out of a pine forest, where they constructed large cement pits filled with water to help absorb the blast from engines during testing.

There, Nancy met a young engineer named Roland Fitzroy. While Nancy was working on heat transfer for missiles fueled with liquid oxygen and alcohol, Roland was working on their inertial guidance system. It was a fitting place for sparks to fly—and they did. Nancy and Roland soon got married and, as Nancy described, lived their lives together as “two peas in a pod.”

Roland Fitzroy, himself, had a distinguished 41-year career at General Electric, after working in the U.S. government during World War II, including on the Mahattan Project.

In addition to engineering advances in rockets and satellites, Nancy also engineered advances in more commonplace technologies, including toasters. With typical modesty and wit, she has pointed out that toasters can be more challenging than rockets and satellites: while space is relatively uniform, bread is almost infinitely various.

Nancy worked at General Electric until her retirement in 1987. She holds three patents and has authored more than 100 technical papers.

By any measure, Dr. Nancy Deloye Fitzroy has achieved much:

  • Born into a loving family;
  • Encouraged to reach for the stars;
  • Undaunted by conventions;
  • Joined in life by a kindred spirit;
  • Passionate in her pursuits;
  • Philanthropic by nature;
  • Accomplished and recognized; and
  • A true inspiration to aspiring young women (and men) seeking to make a difference in the world.

Speaking of those who have been inspired by your life’s work, I would like to share with you, Nancy, two notes that I recently received from beneficiaries of the graduate fellowship you established to support young women pursuing advanced degrees in engineering at Rensselaer.

The first comes from Dr. Melissa Holstein of the Class of 2008:

Dear Dr. Fitzroy,

Being a scholarship recipient helped to cover my educational costs and eased the burden on my family—I am very grateful. I currently work at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Devens, Massachusetts, and my boss is another female RPI CHME graduate! Furthermore, we hired another female RPI CHME graduate into our group last year. Dr. Fitzroy, being the first female CHME to graduate from RPI, you paved the way for many more to follow in your footsteps.

The second note comes from Ms. Jessica Funnell, a current Ph.D. student studying biomedical engineering:

Please tell Dr. Fitzroy congratulations and that I am so grateful for her financial support! I am loving my first year at RPI. I have worked hard this year and I am happy to say that I received the NSF graduate fellowship and just submitted my first manuscript! I am looking forward to the rest of my years here.

It is only fitting that the building we are about to dedicate is one which is home to a team devoted to opening the doors of education to those who seek it.

Now, it is my honor and distinct privilege to dedicate this building, the Nancy Deloye Fitzroy ’49 and Roland V. Fitzroy Jr. Admissions Building.