Agnes Scott College

Sharon Menard

Sharon Menard

1934 -

Alumni in Action—Sharon Menard: At the Vanguard of Computer Programming

Reprinted from Mellon College of Science News, March 2007. Posted with permission of the Mellon College of Science, Carnegie Mellon University.

She's photographed lions, elephants and blue wildebeests in the Serengeti, hiked in the Canadian Rockies, and snorkeled in the company of a giant green sea turtle on the Great Barrier Reef. For alumna Sharon Menard, life is full of excitement, and not just in the great outdoors. In the 1960s when women were significantly underrepresented in such positions, she rose through the engineering ranks to become one of only a handful of women in high-ranking technical management at IBM. When Menard ('56) was an undergraduate mathematics major at what was then Carnegie Tech, she had aspirations of pursuing graduate work in astronomy. But a chance encounter at Carnegie Tech's job placement center had her interviewing with IBM. Even though the computer boom was still well beyond the horizon, Menard had the foresight to take the position with IBM, where she mastered the burgeoning fields of computer engineering and programming. Thanks to her IBM training, Menard had the opportunity to be on the ground floor of her profession.

A New Age of Computing

Menard began her career performing system evaluation, failure analysis, maintenance and diagnostic programming on air defense systems. This work was a stepping-stone to her career in computer applications, leading-edge technologies, and research. While at IBM, she investigated whether computers could be used for diverse purposes, ranging from heart monitoring and diagnosis to steel mill automation. Menard developed automated approaches to the computerized production of maps for the U.S. Army and worked with the IBM sales organization, providing technical support at the forefront of computerized airline reservation and message systems. In 1962, she became the chief programmer on a Russian translator exhibit for the IBM pavilion at the 1963 World's Fair in New York City. Menard's is an impressive resume, to be sure. But perhaps it's even more impressive considering that she was one of only three women working in technical positions in the IBM Kingston Military Products Division at that time. In fact, in 1956 the IBM public relations department showcased Menard — a woman in engineering — for an internal publication, and her picture appeared in an IBM college-recruitment brochure. Ultimately, she became one of the highest-ranking women in technical management at IBM.

An Advocate for Education

After 13 years, Menard left IBM and founded an educational consulting company to further opportunities for women and minorities in the educational systems. In particular, she was interested in improving math and science instruction, which she felt was faltering in the public schools. The U.S. Department of Education supported Menard's research and published the project's product, a book titled, "How High the Sky? How Far the Moon? An Educational Program for Girls and Women in Math and Science." The book, published in the late 1970s, is still relevant today, according to Menard, who feels that women in math and science still have a long way to go to achieve parity. In the early '80s, Menard worked in the field of human-computer interface design at Bell Labs and at a computer graphics start-up company. Shortly after AT&T Bell Laboratories broke into several spin-offs, including BellSouth and US West, Menard began working at one of US West's newly formed companies — US West Advanced Technology. Initially, Menard was a technical manager in system architecture and technology forecasting. Menard was also instrumental in persuading US West to become an industrial affiliate of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science and Software Engineering Institute. In 1989, when Carnegie Mellon launched the Information Networking Institute (INI), the nation's first research and education center devoted to Information Networking, Menard was among the first class of students in the INI's Advanced Technology Innovation (ATI) program, a technical training program for mid-level managers from the Bell Companies. A year after graduating, she returned to Carnegie Mellon to direct the ATI program for one year.

Community Leader and World Traveler

After nearly forty years of contributing to the advancement of computing and telecommunications, Menard retired in 1993. Not one for idleness, she keeps busy during retirement. She is currently first vice chair of the Planning Commission in Boulder County Colorado, where she makes her home. She credits a course at Carnegie Mellon for sparking this lifelong interest in civic affairs, political matters and history. Menard also credits Carnegie Mellon for giving her the skills to solve problems and succeed in a world that by nature constantly changes. She has used those skills throughout her professional and personal life, and continues to seek opportunities to learn something new, whether it be regional and urban planning, or South Asian history to augment what she picked up on during one of her latest trips to Bhutan.

Photo Credit: Photograph used with permission of Sharon Menard