Engineering leadership development alumna supports excellence through new award

Abby Dodson (third from left) recently gifted $20,000 to create the Abigail Dodson Excellence Award. The gift will provide aid to students in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs that demonstrate leadership, volunteer spirit and citizenship qualities that positively affect the climate for women in the College of Engineering. Image taken in 2011.  Credit: Abby DodsonAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Abby Dodson, a 2012 bachelor of science in engineering science and engineering leadership development (ELD) minor alumna, reflects on pivotal experiences during her time as an undergraduate engineering student at Penn State, she thinks of the ELD program.

“The minor (in engineering leadership development) was where I truly found my passion for engineering leadership, was challenged uniquely compared to my other classes and made some lifelong connections,” Dodson said.

To provide others with similar opportunities, Dodson recently established a $20,000 endowment for the Abigail Dodson Excellence Award.

All undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP), the home of ELD, are eligible for the honor. Award recipients must demonstrate leadership, volunteer spirit and citizenship qualities that positively affect the climate for women in the College of Engineering and contribute to the continued support and development of these women through mentoring, tutoring, peer instruction or other leadership activities. Each award is for one academic year. When possible, two awards will be given annually to both an eligible undergraduate and eligible graduate student.

Dodson based the award criteria on that of the Joelle Award for Women in Engineering Leadership, an honor bestowed to eligible upper-level undergraduate engineering students who contribute to the diversity of the student body, by the Penn State Women in Engineering Program. Dodson received the first runner-up Joelle Award in 2012.

“It’s rewarding to know that there are other young students out there with the same passion and initiative to positively influence the environment for women in engineering,” Dodson said. “I think the connection between the award founder and the recipient makes it even more special.”

Dodson said a permanent endowment, which will exist in perpetuity, appealed to her because it provided her with the opportunity to leave a lasting impact and make a difference in the world at a place that has played a large role in her life — Penn State. Dodson’s parents met at the University; her father graduated from the College of Engineering, and he taught classes in the Department of Architectural Engineering. During her time as a student, Dodson served as a teaching assistant, now known as maker space assistant, for EDSGN 100: Cornerstone Engineering Design and as a teaching assistant for ENGR 408: Leadership Principles.

Paul Mittan, director of ELD, said alumni support, ranging from volunteer opportunities to financial gifts like Dodson’s, impacts students in all SEDTAPP programs.

“As Abby has demonstrated, I think it’s important for our alumni to realize they don’t need to be at the end of their technical career to start making an impact,” he said. “Our students value learning from experienced engineers, but they also enjoy hearing from recent grads about their transition from Penn State to industry. Financially, young alumni can start giving now, even at small levels to support our programs. Engaging with Penn State can happen in many ways, and we welcome all Penn State engineering alumni to reach out and work with us to define what works best for them.”

As an alumna just seven years out of her undergraduate program, Dodson agrees with Mittan. She wanted to make an impact now, instead of waiting until she’s further in her career or retired.

“You never know what life is going to throw your way, and it’s easier than most people think to make an impact,” she said. “Anything helps. I think about the college experiences that helped make me who I am today and want to give that opportunity to as many students as possible. It doesn’t matter how much you give because it’s all meaningful to the students it impacts.”

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated March 25, 2021