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Frances Walker explaining a blueprint on a large white sheet of paper to an onlooker.

Frances Walker: The Arizona Highway Department’s First Female Engineer

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Frances Walker: The Arizona Highway Department’s First Female Engineer

June 11, 2019
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UA alumna and College of Engineering Hall of Fame inductee reflects on pioneering past.

Even though it happened more than six decades ago, Frances Walker can still recall her introduction to the Arizona Highway Department.

It was 1956 and she was preparing to graduate from the University of Arizona with a civil engineering degree when a supervisor from the Highway Department’s new Engineer-in-Training program gave a presentation to the college’s American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter.

Walker was there and liked what she heard. She asked for an application only to be told that the Engineer-in-Training program was “designed for men.” She remembers the program supervisor saying he didn’t think the State Highway Commission would hire a woman engineer.

She decided to apply anyway.

“I was very interested in the EIT program,” said Walker, adding that because she was a student at the UA, a school supported by Arizonans, she felt like she owed something back to the state and wanted to work for the Arizona Highway Department.

So, it’s a good thing the supervisor was wrong.

Walker doesn’t know how it happened -- she imagines that maybe one of the highway commissioners had a daughter -- but she was accepted into the program, becoming the first woman ever employed by the Arizona Highway Department as an engineer.