Lisa Freed '86 studied civil engineering at Union College before earning a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She began her career in engineering design, working on projects like Boston’s Big Dig. Later switching to the permitting and land use side of the industry, Lisa worked with a legal firm. Throughout her career, Lisa has been dedicated to engineering outreach and encouraging students to enter the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Eight years ago, she took her dream job as STEM program manager for iRobot, coordinating outreach and education efforts. iRobot visits schools, hosts tours in its museum and arranges job shadowing. It’s a position Lisa loves because she gets to “inspire students from pre-K through college to see the excitement of the STEM fields.” Past manager of the New England Region for National Engineers Week Future City Competition, Lisa served 10 years on her local Planning Board. She also worked on the board of a therapy horse organization and, for 23 years, directed her town’s 5k race. She enjoys photography, time at the beach, her stand-up paddleboard, and training and competing with her Bernese mountain dog, Tessie.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
Working with students is incredibly rewarding. We see students come in who have no idea what they want to do after high school and leave committed to engineering. More satisfying is when those same students return to intern at iRobot. But even at the young ages, it’s incredibly fun to show them robots, have them take them apart, see how they work and then imagine what they might build. But knowing you made a difference professionally is the reward in itself.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
I suppose I could search for a famous role model or someone well known, but truthfully: my father. He is the one who encouraged me to become an engineer, even after my high school guidance counselor told me to pick something else because girls don’t do that (now you know my driving force for engineering outreach). My dad has always helped me think things through, find the engineering solution, or remind myself that I can, and will succeed.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Just do it! Particularly in the STEM fields, I truly believe today’s students have little to no doubt they can be in their chosen career. Where we get in trouble are the previous generations holding on to the myths and stereotypes. Every time a young woman says, “I want to major in biology,” and everyone gets so excited and says, “Oh, that’s so great you want to do that as a woman,” we perpetuate the problem. How about, “That’s so great!” Today’s women have the confidence, will and desire. Just go for it!
What was your most formative Union experience?
Wow, it is next to impossible to pick one experience that shaped me. Union shaped me. Union made me who I am, and always will be. Being one of the founding members of the women’s swim team was fantastic. We survived so many challenges – swimming only against men; wearing the old men’s wrestling sweats for states (Bob in the Cage found us what he could!); ending my senior year sitting on the design committee for a new pool facility. I also chaired the orientation committee and formed a lifelong friendship with our Dean of Student Affairs as we built that program into what it is today. Winning the Bailey Prize was a huge surprise and probably my first very public ugly cry. I was so honored and humbled. Those relationships with faculty and staff and the friends I made at Union are truly what makes it special. Thirty-four years later, my freshman floor (first floor Richmond!) friends and I still get together regularly. They are the people who know me best.