’86, Chemical Engineering
When alumna Deborah Boice took office in January as president of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), she made history as the first female president of the 61-year-old international organization. During her one-year term, she hopes to inspire more women and minorities to the field of fire protection engineering.
“It’s a cool field to be involved in … helping to make sure that your community is safe,” she says.
Her leadership role with SFPE, which includes 5,000 members, is the culmination of more than two decades of work. After graduating from Cal Poly Pomona in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering – the same field in which her father was employed – she went to work for Swiss Re in property insurance sales. Today, she is the company’s senior vice president for the Western United States. Boice, who lives in Mission Viejo, earned an MBA from Cal State Fullerton in 1993.
During her career, she has made “significant contributions to the profession of fire protection engineering by advancing the science and technology that makes people and property safe from fire,” says Chris Jelenewicz, SFPE engineering program manager.
Boice is a past president of the SFPE’s Southern California Chapter and served on the international organization’s Board of Directors since 2002. She also is an SFPE Fellow, representing a distinguished group of members who have attained a certain stature and accomplishment in engineering.
“Fire protection engineering is about protecting people and property,” Boice explains. “We are working on re-crafting our message and rolling out new programs.”
To that end, the SFPE has provided lessons plans for high school chemistry teachers and is encouraging more universities to offer the major. Currently, only a handful of higher education institutions in the U.S. – and only 14 internationally – offer a degree in fire protection engineering, which essentially seeks to ensure that buildings are constructed with an eye toward fire safety.
“We make recommendations regarding design, escape and ways to alert people to danger to better protect a facility,” Boice says.
She hopes that the high school program especially will pique more students’ interest in science-related careers; her own college major in chemical engineering was an extension of her strong aptitude for math and science. Boice credits her early career success in part to her education at Cal Poly Pomona and its learn-by-doing philosophy.
“I used many things that Cal Poly brought to the table,” she says. “Its hands-on learning gave me the ability to really know versus just booking learning.”
Boice hopes to see more women and minorities seek out careers in fire protection engineering as the demand for such knowledge continues to outweigh the supply. And, she adds, it’s a way to have an impact on your community and make a real difference by keeping people and property safe from fire.
In addition to SFPE and Swiss Re, Boice also juggles the demands of her busy, active family. She is a parent of two teenage boys, Trent, 17, and Tyler, 14.
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