Beulah "BJ" Jones '68

Survey Engineering Technology

Expanding Boundaries: Oregon Tech’s First Female Engineering Graduate

Beulah “BJ” Jones wasn’t looking to be a pioneer. In fact, the three-word description of her life’s journey would be serendipity, determination and discovery.

Jones’ high school drafting experience led her first to a pre-architecture program at Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University), and quickly on to Oregon Technical Institute, as OIT was known then, where she was persuaded to enroll in the civil engineering technology department. Summers and vacations working for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the drafting department fueled her curiosity. She had a desire to know “what’s behind the drawing?”

The synergy between her surveying and highway studies at OTI, and the summers spent in the BLM drafting department earned her ever increasing responsibility with the BLM. Soon she was checking other’s work, and opportunities became more interesting the further she got into her studies.

Serendipity came when the first four-year engineering technology degree was offered at OTI. She had considered going to Chico, Calif., to complete a four-year degree; however, when the new program opened up at OTI, it was an easy choice to stay and complete her education here.

Jones is enthusiastic about the support she received when going through the program, destined to be the university’s first female engineering graduate.

“It was a really small class and we did a lot outside the class as a group,” she recalled. She had to get special permission to wear pants for her surveying courses. “Women weren’t supposed to wear pants on campus.”

She also had to get permission to be out past curfew for her evening courses in stellar observations, although there wasn’t a curfew requirement for her male contemporaries.

After graduation, Jones was tired of sitting at a desk and anxious to put her skills to work in the field.  “The only job offer I got that would let me go into the field was from the forest service.” Jones said.

Next was the challenge of putting together a crew. Her managers were concerned about a female crew chief providing oversight for an all-male crew. To solve the perceived problem, women from other areas were brought into the mix. Solving one problem created another dilemma: none of the other women on the crew knew how to survey. Before taking off for the field, Jones had two days in a park with her new recruits for training purposes.

The novelty of an all-female surveying crew turned out to be quite a distraction – both for Jones’ crew and the area’s regulars. “There was a lot more traffic on the forest service roads when we were out there. They’d come by to see what we were doing. Even fully loaded log trucks would stop – then they’d call the other loggers on their CBs,” she said.

According to Jones, eventually “when we heard one of the trucks we would hide.”

Once it was clear that Jones was an extremely competent crew chief, the pressure to maintain an all-female crew diminished, and she was often leading a male crew. Jones’ career has included many interesting opportunities, from many years as a forest surveyor at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to program manager for the Lands Status Group, which Jones describes as a “title company for the Forest Service.” Since 1990, Jones has done more pioneering work; this time at a computer. Jones and her team are helping move massive amounts of forest service data online.

In addition to being the university’s first female engineering graduate, Jones holds another distinguished first. In 1970, she became the first female licensed surveyor in Oregon.