HENRIETTA, N.Y. — At the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Hot Wheelz performance vehicle team is working on building a solar car for a track competition in Kansas this summer.
“My confidence, as a freshman going into engineering, was lacking," said RIT student Shannon Nosal. "But joining this team helped it immensely. I just saw all my other friends killing it in engineering, and I was like, 'I can do this too.'"
The team is made up entirely of women like Nosal who are carrying on the legacy of their college’s namesake.
“If Gleason was alive, she'd be proud to see this was happening and RIT emphasizes teams like this and services like Women in Engineering," said Nosal.
Gleason was a Rochester engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist from the late 1800s.
“To look back and see all the connections she was able to make, her networks with Thomas Edison, George Eastman and Henry Ford," said RIT Mechanical Engineering Professor Dr. Margaret Bailey. "That's inspiring as well."
Gleason helped her family run Gleason Works and traveled the world selling their products.
Bailey says she also attended some classes at RIT, then called The Mechanics Institute.
“We imagine there aren't many women in engineering, but back then there were none," Bailey said. "She would have been such an anomaly and yet she was so successful at what she did."
Gleason's legacy goes far beyond RIT. In East Rochester, she built innovative homes she hoped would last more than 100 years, which they have.
"Once she found an area she cared about, she devoted herself to it," said historian Anita Mance.
Mance says at the time, Concrest was a sustainable housing development Gleason created in the 1920s using a special concrete pouring method she learned while traveling.
“They built several homes at once, she wanted affordable housing," Mance said. "She wanted mortgage payments to be lower than what they were paying for rent in the city."
Gleason also donated land for Edmund Lyon Park, and her estate even funded the community swimming pool after her death.
“We have a right to be proud of her and what she did here, and honor that legacy because it's still visible," said Mance.
For students like Nosal, Gleason is a big inspiration.
“We all kind of hope we can get to the level she was at, and nothing can really bring us down," Nosal said. "If she was doing that then, we can do it now."
Now Nosal just wants to keep doing Gleason's memory justice.
“She was ahead of her time, Kate," said Nosal. "And in a way, I think we are too. So we're just trying to take her legacy and move forward."