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Women’s History Month: College of Engineering Dean Dr. Lisa Zidek

Dr. Lisa Zidek
As dean of the Anderson University College of Engineering, Dr. Lisa Zidek is a role model for women entering the engineering field.

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Dr. Lisa Zidek began her studies in engineering during a time when relatively few females were entering the field. 

“I was one of those students in high school who was just good at math and science. It was something that came easy. I liked the logic aspect of it. Being a first generation student—the guidance from my family—nobody really knew how to direct me, so I kind of went off of a whim of people saying ‘you’re good at math and science, you should study engineering,’” she recalls. “To be honest, I had no idea what engineering was. I honestly didn’t have the slightest idea what I was getting myself into.” 

Initially, Dr. Zidek considered taking a pre med or pre vet educational track, but engineering appealed to her and so she decided to pursue it. 

Entering her engineering program, Dr. Zidek persevered through academic challenges and pursued bioengineering at a time when not everyone was supportive of women in engineering. After unsuccessfully seeking help in a difficult subject from an unsympathetic professor, she was able to seek out the help of her classmates and get through the class.

A turning point came one day as she was walking down a hallway. 

“I heard a very loud voice yelling ‘hey you.’ I stopped and I turned around… the gentleman in the office actually happened to be the program chair for the industrial engineering program and he asked, ‘What are you studying?’ And I said ‘biomedical engineering’ and he asked me ‘why?’ and I said, ‘Because I like medicine.’ And he said, ‘Have you ever heard of Industrial Engineering?’” 

Hearing the program chair’s explanation, Zidek changed her major on the spot. Something about industrial engineering just clicked in her mind.

“This was the mid 80s. There were women going into the engineering field, but still not a lot at that point in time. I found something that I was passionate about and I loved and I was able to use my industrial engineering background to actually look at healthcare systems… I was working with all the doctors. I was making the system more efficient and friendly for the patients,” said Zidek, a self-described “systems thinker” who worked on improving patient flow and merging various systems to make the pieces better work together. 

Zidek is grateful for God’s guidance throughout her career. 

“I hadn’t planned on going into higher ed, I had planned on working in industry. My thesis advisor at Marquette (University) convinced me to pursue a Ph.D., in particular because I was so interested in healthcare, and he just said this is a great way for you to further that. So I went that route and at the same time I was working in industry… It took me a very long time to get my Ph.D. because I was working full time and commuting 90 miles to get that degree,” she said. “I was working at the time as an industrial engineer in a bank and had a colleague, a friend of mine from my master’s program who was teaching and she had to go on bedrest for a pregnancy. She was having a difficult pregnancy and asked if I could take over some of her classes until she returned. She didn’t return and I stayed in higher ed.” 

Dr. Zidek said God has intervened in her life many times and helped her navigate the twists and turns of her educational and career journey. From her start in academia as an assistant professor, Dr. Zidek worked her way up to an associate professor position at Milwaukee School of Engineering. Then in the middle of an accreditation self study, the program director had a heart attack. 

“He survived, but he wasn’t able to finish writing the report,” she said. “I stepped in and wrote the self study and subsequently became the director for the program.” 

After a few years, Dr. Zidek moved south to help build a new engineering program at Florida Gulf Coast University as the program director and a founding faculty member. She became associate dean and, in the coming years developed initiatives, including those supporting STEM education in area schools and cultivating interest among students pursuing engineering careers. 

Dr. Zidek brought that kind of excitement to Anderson University, where female participation in the Engineering Summer Institute, a camp for middle and high school students, has increased.

Coming to Anderson University gave Dr. Zidek a second chance to grow an engineering program. The College of Engineering is expanding, hiring faculty in exciting new areas of engineering and also developing a new home in downtown Anderson that’s slated to open fall 2024. They also had their first Engineering Week, bringing in engineers from major companies and having a career fair for students to interact with those who are working in various types of engineering. 

Approximately 17 percent of engineering majors at Anderson University are female. According to Dr. Zidek, women are attracted to the areas of bioengineering and environmental engineering. Also, this past fall, the Engineering Club at Anderson University had all female officers.

“We’re looking at adding some programs and some of the programs that we would be adding typically attract more female students,” she said. “I think having a female dean is something that’s a little bit unusual and I think that helps the incoming students. In particular, females see that there are people that have done this, and can say, ‘I can do it.’”

Her advice to women seeking an engineering career is to persevere through the inevitable challenges they’ll face in their coursework.

“There are times when you’re going to look at and say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and you need to always look ahead and think about the future and think about what the ultimate goal is,” she said. “For me, engineering has been all about helping people. It’s something when I can look at a system and say, I had a part of that and people are happier because it or the system is working better and our outcomes are better,” she said.

About Dr. Lisa Zidek

Dr. Lisa Zidek was named dean of the Anderson University College of Engineering in 2023 after nearly a decade of serving as an associate dean of the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). She earned her bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering and a master of science in mechanical engineering at Marquette University and also a master of science in industrial engineering and a Ph.D. in industrial engineering with a specialization in health systems management, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Details about the Anderson University College of Engineering can be found online.

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