When Andrea Laliberte, IE 1982, M.S. IE 1984, was on Georgia Tech’s campus in the late 1970s and early ’80s studying industrial engineering, women had been allowed admission as fulltime undergraduates for less than three decades and only accounted for less than 20% of the student population.
In recent years, the Institute has made significant strides in attracting and retaining women at every level, and the number of female undergraduate and graduate students has increased — steadily, but in the big picture, slowly. Women were first admitted in 1952, but 72% of all women who have graduated from Georgia Tech did so since the year 2000.
Laliberte returned to campus in 2013 and spent five years as the Edenfield Executive-in-Residence in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). During this time, she served on several Georgia Tech boards and was chair of the Alumni Association in 2016-17. “I met so many amazing people — from astronauts to Olympians to CEOs — but what really struck me was how many impressive alumnae we have,” she said. “Their stories are amazing.”
What also struck her were stories from women students and graduates that revealed their experiences often were not that different from her own — from decades earlier. She noticed, too, that there was no visible sign on campus of recognizing or celebrating women’s accomplishments. She had a realization: “There are, and have been, amazing women here, but no one knows about them.”
Laliberte came up with a solution: to tell the stories and celebrate the history of women from Georgia Tech in a public, visually compelling way through a transformative structure in the heart of campus near the John Lewis Student Center.
The design process included input from faculty, staff, and students. It was brought to life by Merica May Jensen, MGT 2008, M. ARCH 2011, the lead project designer and a partner at obj, a New York City design firm. As she described it, “The proposal works with transformation, reflection, mosaics, networks, and tension to create a piece that highlights both the individual and the movement. The evolving structure expresses collectivity, journey, and celebration.”
The design has three components. The ground level centers on history and highlights what women have done while at Tech, including faculty and staff members such as Dorothy Crosland, the Georgia Tech librarian who began in 1927, rose through the ranks to director, and retired in 1971. It will include a table and seats for gathering and reflecting.
The next piece celebrates the accomplishments of women who graduated from Georgia Tech. It moves off of the ground and extends upward, with hundreds of honeycomb or hexagonal shapes, each telling one woman’s story — a collective constellation across the campus treeline.
The final piece rises into the air until it reaches the upper corner of the John Lewis Student Center, with a canopy of reflective fabric that invites visitors to contemplate their own future, and the future of women at Tech and beyond. In Jensen’s words, “Poetic snippets of history, faculty and staff, communities, events, and alumnae stories are embedded in the physical work. A complementary explorative website provides each fragment’s deeper story and highlights connections within the mosaic.”
President Ángel Cabrera shares Laliberte’s enthusiasm for the project. “Women from Georgia Tech have overcome challenges and succeeded across disciplines and professions, making an indelible impact on the Institute, our state, our nation, and the world,” he said. “This installation tells their stories — offering examples of courage, talent, and resilience for today’s Tech students, and for future generations of Tech students. We are grateful to Andrea Laliberte for sharing her vision and generosity in making this commemoration a permanent part of the Georgia Tech campus.”
Laliberte’s career spanned many years with Coach, where she was the senior vice president of distribution when she retired in 2010. At Tech, she has established a scholarship for out-of- state, female undergraduates in the College of Engineering, an endowed fund that provides unrestricted support for ISyE, and a women’s basketball scholarship, as well as numerous other gifts across the Institute.
Currently, she serves as a trustee for the Georgia Tech Foundation and is a member of the Alexander-Tharpe Board, the Engineering Advisory Board, and the steering committee for Transforming Tomorrow: The Campaign for Georgia Tech. She has served on the Georgia Tech Advisory Board and the ISyE Advisory Board. Now, she is focused on telling Georgia Tech women’s stories and making them visible — to celebrate, to educate, and to inspire. A formal dedication will take place in the fall, though, as Laliberte noted, “We are leaving space in the installation to add future stories.”