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Joan Munzel Gosink ’62

Pioneering humanitarian engineering

Joan Munzel had a retort for professors and classmates who asked her why a girl would come to MIT: “I am interested in math and science.” Of the 15 women who matriculated with her in the aftermath of Sputnik, eight remained by the spring of her first year. Munzel stuck it out, going on to make her mark in engineering education.

After majoring in math at MIT and marrying Thomas Gosink, SM ‘62, ­Gosink earned her master’s in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion University. Then she moved with their four sons to England to complete a Fulbright fellowship studying numerical methods in fluid dynamics. She and the boys moved to California, where she did her doctoral work at UC Berkeley while her husband worked at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF). “I had a commuting marriage,” she notes.

After Gosink completed her PhD, the family lived in Alaska for a decade. The boys helped their dad build the family house while she joined UAF’s Geophysical Institute and studied phenomena from the Arctic permafrost to katabatic winds in Antarctica. Finally, she says, “the cold got to me.” She headed to Washington, D.C., to warm up with a position at the National Science Foundation studying heat transfer.

In 1991, Gosink and her husband, who had retired, arrived in Golden, Colorado. She joined the Colorado School of Mines as a faculty member in the Engineering Division, where none of her new colleagues had an active research project at the time. She won grants for a million dollars in equipment, spurring a burst of faculty support and success that resulted in a state Program of Excellence award. In 2002 Gosink created a minor in humanitarian engineering that engaged students in developing windmills, water pumps, and solar-powered electrification projects for underserved populations.

To promote this relatively new field, Gosink convinced the 67 humanitarian engineering programs in the United States to work together to create what became the Multidisciplinary Engineering Division of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), which now has more than 1,300 members. She was the division’s first chair and was named a fellow in 2009. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers made her a fellow in 2000. Now retired, she serves as a commissioner on the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, evaluating programs nationwide.

In 2007 Gosink underwent treatment for breast cancer. She chucked her desk-bound lifestyle and now follows a routine that includes aerobics, Pilates, and exercises in a vortex pool. Her sons—three PhDs and a forensic pathologist—have made her a grandmother six times over. She and Thomas are still living in Golden, where she enjoys gardening. “I think I’m probably good at nurturing, at bringing out the best in people,” she says. “It enabled me to work both as a mother and a chair of a young department.”

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