Miriam “Mickey” Gerla was a Charter Member of SWE and the first New York Section Chairman (that’s what Section Presidents were called then).
Mickey’s interest in engineering was not apparent during her early school years. Following graduation from Bay Ridge High School, Brooklyn, she worked as a secretary and office manager. After her 1939 marriage to Morton Gerla, a mechanical engineer, she became so interested in engineering through attending professional meetings and lectures with her husband, that he encouraged her to study engineering. Thus for four years she attended the University of Maryland in the daytime, doing both housework and homework in the evenings. It helped tremendously to have an understanding husband! Although active in campus organizations, she maintained a scholastic average of 3.93 out of a possible 4, graduating with first honors.
From the time of her graduation until 1953 Miriam worked for various firms, doing mechanical design and theoretical analysis and computations for experimental naval ordnance equipment, design of high-speed industrial machinery, and general product design and application of power transmission equipment.
From 1954 she worked as a management consultant on the problems of communications within organizations, defining responsibilities of various levels of management, flow of information, conference procedures, etc., and has acted as special adviser on general organization problems.
Miriam had an astonishing record of service to SWE ever since its beginning. She was a charter member and the first chairman of the New York Section in 1949-51. In 1950-52 she was chairman of the national By-Laws Committee. Then a year as director-at-large was followed by a year in the vice-presidency. From 1955 to 1957 she was in quick succession director-at-large, vice president, and president. A full year in the presidency for 1957-58 was followed by two years as chairman of the Finance Committee. During 1958-59 she was also on the Board of Directors as past president.
But Mickey was never one to confine her activities to one organization only. She belonged to ASME. She was charter member and chairman of the Service Committee for Foreign Students of the New School, which aids foreign students studying in this country. She was active in the Hillcrest Jewish Center, and in local civic and political groups.
In 1960 she announced that she was temporarily retiring from active work in engineering to devote herself to family life after she and Morton adopted an 11 1/2 year old son. She continued her interest in engineering affairs and organizations, while finding a little more time to devote to such hobbies as needlework, piano playing, cooking, gardening, reading philosophy, and collecting stamps.
She had a word of advice for women engineers looking for employment. She felt that choosing a good employer is as important as the work and the salary. When she found, in seeking new positions, that an employer was prejudiced against women, she did not consider working for such a firm. She believed that it was because of her careful selection of employers that she never had any difficulty with discrimination of any sort. On the job she devoted her attention to her work, and did her “educating” through other media, and through doing her work to the best of her ability.
- B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with Aeronautical Option, 1944, University of Maryland
- Life Member of SWE