Student awarded first Thole scholarship to support diversity in engineering


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Haylee Womer, a first-year Penn State student from Owings, Maryland, has been selected as the first recipient of the Professor Karen A. Thole Annual Scholarship for Diversity in Engineering.

The scholarship was established in 2019 by the Penn State College of Engineering to support underrepresented groups in engineering education and encourage a more equitable workforce.

During her senior year of high school, Womer attended a Society of Women Engineers stayover in the summer of 2018. It was that experience that convinced her to attend Penn State.

“They are incredibly supportive of women in engineering,” she said. “Penn State makes sure that we have the same opportunities in our education.”

Womer participated in the Women in Engineering Program Orientation (WEPO), an immersive program designed to introduce first-year women to the College of Engineering and to the engineering career path. She hopes to continue building her community within the group and show visiting high school students the same encouraging spirit.

“Being a part of a group of women who support each other has been great,” she said. “I can’t wait to show other students all the opportunities they can have here.”

The scholarship funds were donated by John J. Brennan, a nuclear engineering alumnus. Brennan serves on the Leonhard Center Board and was named an Outstanding Engineering Alumnus in 1998. Brennan’s support has also created the John J. and Jean M. Brennan Clean Energy Early Career Professor, which supports an outstanding faculty member whose research is focused on helping eliminate the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The scholarship is named after Karen A. Thole, distinguished professor and mechanical engineering department head. Her diligent efforts to diversify and support gender equity in the program are further cemented with the creation of this scholarship, according to Brennan.

“I’m so appreciative of women like Dr. Thole who work hard to make sure women feel welcome,” Womer said. “She has impacted so much in the mechanical engineering department, and I’m incredibly grateful to receive the scholarship named after her.”


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“They are incredibly supportive of women in engineering. Penn State makes sure that we have the same opportunities in our education.”
—Haylee Womer, first-year Penn State student



With more than 60 faculty members, 330 graduate students, and 800 undergraduate students, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering embraces a culture that welcomes individuals with a diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Our faculty and students are innovating today what will impact tomorrow’s solutions to meeting our energy needs, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems. We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S.) graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

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