Wright-Patterson’s women in STEM are not hidden figures

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – It’s not too often one gets to meet exceptional people, making remarkable inroads; however, to have three generations of women who personify this year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business,” is a zenith moment.

Adrienne Ephrem, integration manager with the 711th Human Performance Wing, represents the third generation of female engineers in her family. It was her grandmother, Phyllis Bolds, who started this family dynasty of scientists and mathematicians, working as a physicist in the radar branch of the electronics laboratory here at Wright-Patterson from 1955-1957, and then later in 1957, transferring to their flight dynamics laboratory, working there until her retirement in 1987.

“I graduated valedictorian from Dunbar High School in 1950, and magna cum laude from Central State College in 1954, with a degree in physics,” said Bolds. “The Air Force also paid for me to get a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Dayton in 1973, as well as a master’s degree in management from Simmons Women’s College in Boston in 1977.”

Bolds explained that she didn’t experience segregation issues during her career, but instead some had problems with her being a female in a mostly male dominated career field. However, she didn’t allow that to be her problem. She expertly corrected the radar signal as it passed through the aircraft’s fuselage, and measured how much was reflected, absorbed and transmitted, as well as its associated angle. Bolds has also written numerous technical papers and reports on vibration and acoustics.

“The Air Force sent me to a symposium at the Air Force Academy with 350 men in 1970, where I presented a proceedings paper,” she said.
It is easy to see how her granddaughter had an inherent interest in STEM.

“My earliest interest in STEM began when I was in second grade,” said Ephrem. “We were given an assignment after reading a story about a box, and we were to make anything out of a cardboard box of any kind. I wanted to make a television, but not a bulky one, but a much flatter one. So, that night, I told my mom about the assignment and what I wanted to design.”

Ephrem made a flat screen TV out of a cardboard box, using a flashlight, empty toilet tissue roll and a drawing of her favorite TV show—Fun House.

“The flashlight functioned to turn the TV on and off. The recorder gave an auditory/sound of the viewing material,” Ephrem said. “Most of the other girls created doll houses and the boys added wheels to their boxes, making cars.”

She said her teacher loved what she created so much that she had Ephrem present/demonstrate her invention to her class and another second grade class, boosting her excitement and confidence.

“In the 8th grade, I was accepted into the Wright STEPP Program, which identifies the top math and science students in grades 7-11,” she said. “The four-week session is conducted on the campus of Wright State University, and more than 100 of the volunteers that work as teachers and instructors come from Wright Patterson Air Force Base.”

Ephrem explained that she initially thought she would like to be a medical doctor, but through the Wright STEPP Program, there was a speaker who was a biomedical engineer who inspired her into a different STEM path.

“Prior to this seminar, I had never heard of the biomedical engineering profession,” she said. “It was during the course of the seminar that I realized that biomedical engineering was a perfect profession for me.”
So one of the speakers from the Wright STEPP program piqued her interest even further than her genes and natural abilities.

“Getting an engineering degree is very rigorous, time-consuming and takes time and dedication,” said Ephrem. “There were plenty of beautiful days I spent studying for tests, preparing projects, and meeting with study groups. But I knew it would all pay off.”

And “pay off” it did. She is an integration manager within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing here at Wright-Patterson.

“I come from a line of very strong women and role models, and I was blessed to have a mother who is a metallurgist chemist working with a company off base for 35 years and two amazing grandmothers, one who worked here on base for more than 30 years,” she said. “I also have an aunt who works here on base as a material scientist.”

Ephrem’s aunt and Bolds’ daughter, Karen Beason, currently works in the 88th Civil Engineering Group as an environmental protection specialist and is a water quality and storage tank program manager.

For the past 24 years, off and on, she has been a researcher in the materials laboratory. Beason has a Bachelor of Science degree in material science and engineering from Wright State University where she graduated with honors.

“My mother strongly encouraged me to pursue a career in engineering and science at an early age,” said Beason. “As my mentor and counselor, my mom was an integral part for me graduating high school as valedictorian and being a member of the High School National Honor Society.”

Ephrem is passionate about inspiring high school and college students to seek STEM careers, just like the Wright STEPP program inspired her. She is mentoring a college student who is studying biomedical engineering at Wright State University, helping her see how these engineering platforms interface. Additionally, for the past decade, she has organized the Wright STEPP Shadow Day at Wright-Patterson, where 11th-graders have field trips here and are matched with employees that work in career fields that are of interest to them.

(Editor’s Note: Ephrem has four siblings who also work in STEM career fields: as sister is a biomedical engineer, two younger brothers are industrial systems engineers, and an older brother who is an electronics technologist. Phyllis Bolds also has a son, Keith Bolds, who is a retired Air Force veteran, after a 22-year career in B-52 aircraft maintenance. He wanted to change things up as a civilian, and his mother suggested computer programming. He took her advice and is now working as a civilian IT specialist at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. He found and purchased one of the many books and technical reports his mother authored on performing stress tests on Air Force fighters/bombers and cargo airplanes.)