The number of female students at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) continues to rise. This academic year there are 3652 of them, compared to 2,100 more than a decade ago. Unthinkable in the 1960s. Back then, there was barely a girl in the lecture hall. According to standards prevailing at the time, they were destined for motherhood and housework. Joke Jansen from Eindhoven disagreed.
Only woman on the faculty
She went to study electrical engineering in 1964. A curiosity, as she was the only woman in her faculty. A total of 19 women were studying that year at what was then still called the Technische Hogeschool, writes Omroep Brabant.
Proudly, Joke points to a tall white building with blue windows. “That’s where the faculty of Electrical Engineering was. Great to see it again. This brings back a lot of memories.”
Joke is back on the campus in Eindhoven, where she studied from 1964 to 1971. As the only girl among 200 boys. “I clearly remember entering the lecture hall on my first day. I didn’t know what I saw. There were only boys there and not one girl. I didn’t expect that at all. I just sat down. After all, I came for the lecture, not for the students.”
It was not common in 1964 for girls to study. And certainly not electrical engineering. Joke explains: “I was encouraged by my mother. ‘Child, go and study, work can come later,’ she said.”
Joke stood out. “Some professors thought it was nice and special to have a girl in the hall. Others thought it was weird. They literally and figuratively did not like me. Those started the lecture with: “Gentlemen:”. While I was sitting in the front row.”
Joke did not let it deter her. What she did find difficult was that there was no role model for her in college. Someone she could relate to, who could serve as a role model. “There were women, but they were secretaries or had other support roles. Later I became that role model myself, I’m proud of that.”
Joke points to a low white building. “That was the W hall. That’s where the practicals were. When I was working there, sometimes people would walk by and actually retrace their steps and look again to make sure they had seen a girl.”
Being the only woman in a man’s world also had its advantages. “I was often pushed forward and given a lot of opportunities that others didn’t get. For example, when there were guests from abroad, I was asked to help receive them. And I was immediately asked to join the board of the study association. “At the same time, that also brought pressure. “When you are in the spotlight, you want to do well. I did feel I had to perform.”
Graduation and beyond
In 1971, Joke graduated as the first woman at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. She will never forget the graduation ceremony. “That was a truly big event. My professor was full of praise. Perhaps he overdid it a bit; his praise made me feel small.”
Joke was immediately offered a job as an academic assistant at Tu/e. Later she made the move to Fontys University of Applied Sciences. There she held all kinds of positions until her retirement.
Still, the love for TU/e runs deep. “This will always be a special place for me. For my whole family for that matter. Because both my husband and our three children all studied here too.”
Translated by: Anitha Sevugan