Alumna Spotlight: Doreen Cook Hagerty ENG ‘57

“I have nothing but respect for what Rutgers has done – both for me and for other students and graduates.” – Doreen Cook Hagerty

Doreen Cook Hagerty, who earned her bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering in 1957, was one of the School of Engineering’s first women graduates. She holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Northwestern University. Before she retired ten years ago, she served as director of management engineering at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Prior to that, Hagerty was the management engineering director at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago. She was long active in professional societies in healthcare, such as the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers’ Society for Health Systems (SHS) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). A truly life-long learner, she continues to satisfy her curiosity by taking classes at Northwestern.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Newark, New Jersey and came from a family that had immigrated to the United States from Scotland.

Why did you choose Rutgers?

In eighth grade, I didn’t intend to go to college and enrolled in a vocational high school program to prepare for being an engineering secretary. After six months, I transferred to a high school with a college prep course. My high school career counselor, who was a New Jersey College for Women (renamed Douglass College in 1955) graduate, thought it was ridiculous that I had no plans to attend college. I only applied to one school – Rutgers – and was admitted with a full tuition scholarship in 1953.

You were interested in engineering as a teenager?

I was interested in engineering, but hadn’t selected a particular kind of engineering. My father had mechanical ability, and used it, but not fully as an engineer. I had a cousin with ties to engineering.

What was it like once you got to Rutgers?

I only remember two other women engineering students. Women at Douglass weren’t allowed to take Rutgers classes. Only engineering majors went over to Rutgers for every single class, including liberal arts electives. The college didn’t have transportation, so I walked. Pat, another engineering student, arranged for her commuting boyfriend to pick us up sometimes and drop us off for eight a.m. classes. There was no transportation to University Heights, where the labs were. I remember going there with IE classmates who had cars at the time.

Did you face any obstacles as a woman engineering student?

I can’t say  that I did.  I think that the first day or two there were some stares: what is she doing here? Nobody caused me to feel that I wasn’t welcome and as things moved along, I felt very comfortable. In fact, I think a lot of faculty specifically reached out to me in helpful ways.

What was your first job after graduation?

I didn’t realize that in senior year big companies like IBM were coming to campus and interviewing people.  It was late in the game when I figured that out. As soon as I did, I went to the career group at Rutgers campus. They were helpful and I got some interviews with AT&T and an oil company in Ohio.

Then I interviewed with JVN Dorr, a Rutgers alumnus who had founded the Dorr Company, and he contacted HR people in company who interviewed me. My first job was with them, but it wasn’t a good match in terms of beginning an IE career. I was in a management training program and worked there for two years. My longest assignment was in the legal department, where I did patent searches and tracked employee idea submissions.

What was next for you?

Well, I married a man who was studying in California at San Anselmo Presbyterian Seminary. We lived there for three years, while he finished his studies and I worked as an IE for the Alameda Naval Air Station’s Overhaul and Repair Department, Plant Layout Group. When my husband was called as an associate pastor to San Luis Obispo, California, there weren’t many options for IE employment, so I was a substitute math teacher. Other moves to new parishes in California and Lincoln, Nebraska followed until we finally moved to the Chicago area in 1966.

Was it hard to have your own career and be a clergyman’s wife?

My husband never expected me to be his “second hand” and I didn’t want to be an assistant minister. We did entertain – we were invited out to dinner and events and would reciprocate – and opened our home for church meetings. And I regularly attended worship and church events, though I didn’t feel I had to be at everything, even though some churches expected that.

One advantage of being married to a minister is that after a move, there is a built-in community interested in getting to know you. In once instance, this led to a job opportunity for me. When we came to Chicago, a member of the search committee was a Northern Trust Bank vice president who arranged an interview for me in their new systems department.

How did you manage work and being a mother?

When my son was born, I’d just been accepted to the IE graduate program at Northwestern. I completed my master’s before returning to work.

The first job I took was close to our home and I expected to be able to go home to serve lunch to my son. That didn’t work out, but since my husband’s church was close to our son David’s school he could help pick up some of the slack.

What drew you to healthcare?

It was a pragmatic decision to do that at the time. I had no idea I would find it so interesting. There was a lot going on in the field at the time.

What did you look for when you were hiring?

When I would interview people, I’d look at their experience, background, academic preparation, how they present themselves and if they communicate effectively. A good part of the job in my area would be to sit down with doctors, managers, and staff members to help them with changing a process in connection with a new computer system, a move to a new location, or a major performance improvement. We would introduce project planning tools, flowcharts, and other analytic tools.

What are some of the changes you saw during the course of your career?

When I was first hired, hospitals used simple metrics like patient days to determine how efficiently we used staff. We used a fairly simple computerized program to calculate results.

More recently, decision support computer systems were able to give detailed data tailored to individual questions. I don’t think there was a department in the hospital that I didn’t have some contact with.

What do you most value about your Rutgers education?

Rutgers has an excellent reputation. I was never any place where people didn’t recognize that I’d been to a university where I would have gotten a good education. I also value the fact that my relationship with Rutgers has continued informally over the years. I’ve gone back and seen people I know and have seen what is moving Rutgers forward. I have nothing but respect for what Rutgers has done – both for me and for other students and graduates.

What advice would you give to yourself, knowing what you know now, if you were entering college today?

Things change: be flexible, stay professionally connected, and develop good communication skills.

Were you involved with any activities when you were at Rutgers?

I was involved with an engineering magazine and was a house chairman at Douglass in my senior year.

What are you involved with now?

I recently finished six years as chair of the resident council at my retirement community. I was responsible for arranging periodic building wide meetings and introducing topics and speakers, and I met with managers to resolve issues. I wrote the council’s first by-laws and established standing committees. This took up a lot of time and was fairly demanding, but I enjoyed doing it. Now I’m focusing on outside interests.

What do you do for fun?

I take continuing education classes at Northwestern. The one I’m taking now has to do with what’s happening in media and journalism and how people are using social media.  It’s interesting.

I also go to the Chicago Symphony and to a lot of plays. Chicago has a theater scene that I think is better than New York’s.

You like to travel. Where have you been recently?

I got back less than a month ago from a trip along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I had presented to a women’s group I belong to about the “Great Pompeii Project” I went on this trip – to see Pompeii.  I’m planning a trip with my son and daughter-in-law to New Mexico in December.