During an interview given to CNN in February 2011, Diane Bryant cheerfully admitted that she hadn’t planned to attend college.
“I was the prissy girl growing up; I won ‘best dressed’ in high school. My parents didn’t go to college, so there wasn’t any expectation that my sister and I would go either.”
Money also was tight, and Bryant was on her own at 18. She took a couple of waitressing jobs and, having been a good high school student, enrolled at Sacramento’s American River College.
She began to focus on engineering only when a fellow student mentioned that job salaries were good. She transferred to UC Davis as a junior engineering undergrad — “I’d never met an engineer; there were no engineers in my family; and I had no clue what I was getting into” — and had her life-changing moment in a “Principles of Device Physics” class taught by Stephen Haley.
“He was the toughest professor I ever had; his tests were incredibly hard, but he was a generous grader. And I fell in love with device physics through his deep knowledge and understanding, and particularly his passion. You’d walk out the door thinking Wow, this is really exciting!”
Bryant graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1985. Scarcely an eyeblink later, she was recruited by Intel, a relationship that continues all these years later. Today, she’s senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, a recent transition after her time as the company’s corporate vice president and CIO.
She holds four U.S. patents, all received while part of Intel’s mobile group.
Bryant is equally devoted to outreach, and particularly concerned by the under-representation of women in STEM fields: Only 18 percent of today’s computer science and engineering degrees are going to women. “That’s even lower than when I graduated from UC Davis,” she points out. “Back then, it was 25 percent. It’s trending in the wrong direction, and we need to turn that around.”
Intel recently surveyed 1,000 students across the United States, ages 13-18 and evenly divided between girls and boys in varying economic situations. Roughly 63 percent had never even considered a career in engineering.
“The problem is awareness,” Bryant insists. “The earlier we make kids aware that this is a valuable occupation, the more likely they’ll pursue it. We need to tell them, hey, you know the people who saved those Chileans, in the 2010 mining disaster? Those were engineers! Do you know who developed that Facebook app you love so much? Engineers! Do you know who brings clean water to remote parts of Africa? Also engineers!”
She also knows that actions speak louder than words, and has just endowed a scholarship, with matching support from the UC Davis Foundation. The Diane Bryant Endowed Scholarship for Women in Engineering is designed to assist, in her words, “a small handful of excited and motivated young women each year” who pursue engineering at the UC Davis College of Engineering.
“I always discuss the exciting things I do as an engineer, when I talk to young students. I tell them to stick with school, because there is value and benefit beyond just getting that A and moving into the next math class.”