Meet Pat Kehrberger ’69, Manhattan’s First Female Student

Pat Kehrberger graduates as first female engineering student at MC. QUADRANGLE/COURTESY

By: Maizy Swift, Asst. Production & Jilleen Barrett, Senior Writer

In 1965, Pat Ruback Kehrberger ’69 became the first woman to attend Manhattan College. After expressing interest in engineering, her high school principal convinced a brother at the college that Kerhberger should be able to attend MC..

“On the spot, he said, ‘Well, it is a men’s school, and it’s been that way for 100 years plus, but it’s probably time that we let women in,’,” Kehrberger told The Quadrangle.

Kehrberger had been the valedictorian of her high school, where she discovered her love for math and science. She was awarded with a scholarship that would cover her college tuition, but only if she attended school in New York. 

She was accepted into both Cornell University and the Catholic University of America, which is located in Washington, D.C. She almost gave up her scholarship to prioritize going to the latter, because she had always wanted to go to Catholic school. 

When Kehrberger found out that it was possible for her to attend MC, she knew it was the right opportunity for her. She was in a unique situation, taking liberal arts classes at the College of Mount Saint Vincent — which was an all-female school at the time and had a dormitory for her to live in — but attending classes for civil engineering at MC. When she graduated in 1969, she was awarded a Manhattan College diploma.

So, for four years, Kehrberger took the bus from the North Riverdale based campus down to Broadway & 242nd St. On her first day of classes, she described walking to the main entrance to campus and finding out that Leo Hall was all the way down on south campus.

Kehrberger was not unaware that there were few women working in the engineering field at the time. Family members and the parents of some of her friends back home commented on her career aspirations. 

“I heard things like engineering is not for women, engineering is too tough, it’s a man’s field,” Kehrberger said. “It’s a waste of a degree for a woman, because you’re just going to get married, you’ll never use it.” 

She also noted that during that time, women were still gaining access to college in the first place.

“There was a time where the women’s movement was just starting to gain momentum and there were people fighting to get into schools and protesting and saying, treat us fairly, let us in,” she said.  

Despite this, MC was a safe place for her. She said the men in her class were shocked to see a woman walk into the building on the first day of classes, but that once they knew she was one of them, they got along just fine.

“They just accepted it and welcomed me,” Pat stated, “There was no pushback that I saw, it could have been nasty if they had chosen so, but they were just great.” 

Kerhberger was involved in several clubs at MC. She was a tutor, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter and a part of the Outing Club, which involved going on rock climbing and skiing trips. She was also able to be part of the glee club at Mount Saint Vincent.

MC has more than just one woman in engineering in 2023, but there is still work being done on campus to make them feel included and accepted like Kehrberger was several decades ago.

Sabrina Scalzo, a senior who is currently majoring in mechanical engineering, explained how she feels accepted as a woman in the field.

“For our department in general, we have a mechanical engineering women’s society […] we get to meet once a month and we just hang out as girls,” Scalzo said. “Moments like those definitely make me feel like you know, like, I have someone to connect to even just within the other girls, my department but also with our faculty members.” 

Sarah Carr, a junior also pursuing mechanical engineering, described her experience at the college thus far.

“When [I was] going into college and I told people I was interested in engineering, I would always get the response, ‘Oh, good for you. We need more women in engineering,’” Carr said. “They only acknowledge that I’m a female. They didn’t acknowledge that I’m choosing to go into a difficult career with a lot of different paths I could choose from. I feel like they only cared that I was a woman, which always felt a bit condescending.”

Scalzo explained how she feels women in engineering could be more normalized. She feels talking about it helps significantly.

“I think that there have been some pretty good strides, but I think a little bit more of a push for opening environments is always going to be really great […] I always say that discussions do more than you can ever think,” she told The Quadrangle. 

Kehrberger’s advice for women in engineering today is to have discussions and speak publicly as often as possible. Another piece of advice from her is to take certification exams as soon as possible in order to further a career in engineering. 

Carr has a goal to be in this field for as long as she can.

“One of the issues now is that even though we have a lot of women attending college as S.T.E.M majors, you’re seeing a trend where women don’t stay as engineers for their entire career,” Carr said. “So, I would definitely like to see myself staying as some form of an engineer for as long as possible.”

Pat Kehrberger gives speech at MC 5 decades after graduating. @manhattanedu twitter/COURTESY