Out of the eight departments in the College of Applied Science and Technology, seven are in male-dominated fields. More women are studying agriculture, technology, computer science, and criminal justice, but they are still outnumbered when they graduate.

And 30 years ago, they were really outnumbered. Betsy Pech became one of the first women in the state to teach high school agriculture in 1978. Tami Haukedahl walked away with a degree in corrections in 1980 and joined the Illinois State Police, becoming the first woman to patrol the Tri-State Tollway in the Chicago area at a time when there were no uniforms tailored for women. Jedediah Cantrell started as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home, got her degree in health information management in 2001, and is vice president of operations for SwedishAmerican Health System.

Find out how they did it.

Tami Haukedahl

When Tami Haukedahl ’80 graduated with a degree in corrections, women were more likely to be matrons in prison than sworn police officers. But the Redbird basketball player knew what she wanted to be since she was a teen and she learned from former head coach Jill Hutchison to stick to her game plan. After more than 27 years with the Illinois State Police, she retired to become deputy chief of police at Elgin Community College.

At a time when women were becoming nurses or teachers in droves, what attracted you to the police force?

I was one of the lucky ones. I knew I wanted to be a police officer when I was 15. I knew no police officers. Police work drew me because I could help people. I was so fortunate to get my dream job with the state police.

What was your first assignment with the Illinois State Police?

I started out on the tollway system around O’Hare; they call it the spaghetti bowl. You have 50,000 to 70,000 cars and trucks pass through your 12-mile patrol area in an eight-hour shift. Anything that would happen in a city that size also happens in cars—homicides, suicides, crimes, babies being born, drunk drivers, crashes.

How did your career evolve?

After seven years, I became a sergeant, and eventually a master sergeant, and then shift commander.  I had an opportunity to join the Division of Internal Investigation in ’93. I did investigations on state employees or DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services), or Public Aid, or state police troopers accused of wrongdoing. After three years, I went to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab in Chicago. It was so interesting. I was eager to start every day and see where it went.

What personal philosophy guided you?

I was able to help people in a lot of ways, whether it was changing a tire, which I did hundreds of times, or just listening to someone who needed an ear, or helping crime victims. I had such a sense of satisfaction from it. My parents had a tough time understanding that I would be willing to lay my life down for what I believe in.

I had some moments of sheer terror. One night I arrested an armed robber and I thought it would end terribly. He robbed a toll plaza at gunpoint. The tollway is a controlled-access highway, so there was no exit between me and him. He had to drive by me and I pulled him over and the gun was on the front seat. We all ride by ourselves. We’re highly trained, so you always revert to your training. You harness your adrenaline like athletes do.

Did you experience any gender discrimination or bias from male officers?

At 23 years old, I was the first woman on the Tri-State Tollway and I was working with experienced troopers, most of them Vietnam vets. There were no bathrooms for women. There was one locker room that we all had to share, complete with a bunch of urinals. Our uniforms were tailored for men, and the hair standard was the same as males so I looked like a 10-year-old boy

“At 23 years old, I was the first woman on the Tri-State Tollway.” —Tami Haukedahl

My first supervisor, a sergeant, was quite skeptical about women being state troopers. One day he asked, “What is the academy sending me here?” I told him I’d give 100 percent and he wouldn’t regret it. At the end of my career, I was fortunate enough to be the commander of the Tollway District. That sergeant was still in the district. He came in to my office and said I had a lot to overcome and he was proud of me.

What did ISU do to help prepare you for your career?

My education at ISU really laid the groundwork for me to be successful in law enforcement. The faculty was an all-star group and being able to apply that knowledge and use it in a practical way is the basis for my success.

Being in sports definitely helped too. I understood how I’d fit in with the team, what I brought to the table, and what I needed someone else for. Jill Hutchison was my coach, and you don’t get any better than that. She’d drill in our heads that we had a job to do, and to just keep focused, and execute the game plan. That helped me throughout my career.

The lessons I learned on the court and in the classroom brought me my success. There’s no doubt about it.

Betsy Pech

Betsy Pech ’78 thought she wanted to be a veterinarian in high school. She never considered a career in agriculture, because that’s not something high school girls thought about in the ’70s. Physics ended her dream of becoming a veterinarian, and she attended two colleges before transferring to Illinois State, where she discovered ag education. Pech became one of the first women in the state to teach high school agriculture and won numerous awards, including Top Vocational Agriculture Teacher in Illinois and the Honorary Holbert Award from Illinois State’s Department of Agriculture, the department’s highest honor. After 34 years of teaching at Hartsburg-Emden High School, she retired in 2014 and lives in rural Lincoln with her husband of 35 years, Randy. They raise Hereford cattle.

What was the first surprise about teaching a male-dominated subject?

I was probably the first female production ag teacher in Illinois. It absolutely didn’t dawn on me that there weren’t any females out there. I’ve always been around males, working on a farm, so it didn’t dawn on me that I was going to be stranded out there by myself. There were a couple of times when someone tried to put me in my place, male teachers, but the kids were fine, that wasn’t an issue at all. It wasn’t enough to discourage me.

What did you want your students to learn about agriculture, and how did that change as fewer students came from farms?

About three years ago we graduated the last of the farm kids, but luckily, it’s still a rural community. I always told my students you live in the best of areas—you can drive down the road and see corn, and soybeans, and tractors, and 30 miles away, you can be in a city of 100,000. But the people who live there don’t know what your life is like.

My last five or six years of teaching, I had almost every kid in high school. It was an elective, and I wanted the kids to enjoy learning about agriculture. It’s my passion. Four years ago we went to the Farm Progress Show, and I took two buses, freshman through seniors. There were only three or four kids left at the school.

Did any of your students pursue agriculture, and what advice did you give them about ag education, which often requires extra hours with FFA and competitions?

Quite a few went into agriculture, one is a veterinarian, several work in the seed industry, and several went into diesel mechanics. One of my disappointments is I haven’t had students go into ag education. But I have sat down with college students and told them if you’re going to get married, you have to have a spouse who’s very understanding of an (ag education) career.

If you do it the way it’s supposed to be done, you’re going to be gone evenings and Saturdays. One of the other things I told them is that if you go to a rural school district, you need to know how to teach mechanics. You don’t have to be a master; you just have to know enough to teach the class. I just built and wired a playhouse for my grandchildren. Those are things I taught my students and I taught myself by going to workshops.

What do you miss about teaching now that you’ve entered your second fall without a classroom?

I miss the students. I miss the camaraderie of the teachers, but I do not miss the paperwork. It was probably about January last year that it finally hit me that I do like my evenings at home. I do like my Saturdays. I have four grandchildren. But I had a fantastic career. I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t have written a better script for my life.

“I had a fantastic career. I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t have written a better script for my life.” —Betsy Pech

Jedediah Cantrell

Jedediah Cantrell’s career is rooted in more than 20 years of experience in health care. Beginning as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home, Cantrell ’01 took on roles in laboratory science before pursuing her Bachelor of Science in health information management at Illinois State. After graduating, she applied her education and experience, gaining increasing responsibility in the health information management (HIM) field.

Today Cantrell serves as vice president of operations for SwedishAmerican Health System, headquartered in Rockford, where she is responsible for hospital internal operations and clinical services throughout the health system and provides oversight of the SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center. Additionally Cantrell is active on a number of community boards and in a number of organizations. She received her executive MBA from Bradley University.

Was moving into a leadership role always a goal?

It was. Early in my career, I wanted to move into leadership and make decisions. Be careful what you ask for. But, the move toward leadership is what led me to HIM. One thing I always appreciated about HIM is the variety—you can focus on data analysis, patient records, coding impact, revenue cycles, clients, and IT. It is a diverse field. Between my desire to get into management and do something different every day, HIM was a perfect fit for that.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

What I enjoy most is that we’re in an exciting time right now in health care. The changes we are undergoing are related to redesigning how we deliver patient care, how we are reimbursed for that care, how we partner with other health care entities, and how we work to provide positive health care experiences. You wrap that up and try to figure out how to provide the best experience for our patients while managing a financial environment that’s changing. All of the moving parts can be challenging, but I enjoy working with my team as we figure out “the how.”

What’s your greatest success?

I’m a strong believer that mentorship and reaching back to help others is critical in the advancement of our communities. I try to make it a point to spend time with students and people who are early in their careers. I spend time with mid-level professionals and I participate on education and community boards because it is important to give back. To see people advance and stretch beyond themselves counts as success for me.

How do you find time to give back?

It can be tough. Not only do I have the roles I hold at SwedishAmerican and on community boards, I am a wife and mother of three: TJ (23), Saniya (5), and Kimoni (3). My husband, my family, my community in Rockford—I have a strong support system that allows me to make time for others. Again, having a strong team at work who are experts at what they do is essential as well, and I rely on them.

A study by the Pew Research Center noted that while women make up the majority of the labor force, only 22 percent of senior management positions are held by women. What are your thoughts on this?

Unfortunately, it’s our reality. In health care it’s what I see every day. Although the number of males in health care related roles is growing, most health care workers are women, but that ratio is not necessarily reflected in leadership positions. In most health care organizations when you look at the board of trustees, board of directors, and executive leadership team, there aren’t many women present in those roles. I am proud to say that SwedishAmerican has done a very good job of diversifying their board of directors as well as their executive leadership team. There has been an effort to make sure that our leadership is diverse and reflects the communities that we serve. There’s still work to be done in the industry.

“Although the number of males in health care related roles is growing, most health care workers are women, but that ratio is not necessarily reflected in leadership positions.” –Jedediah Cantrell

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing today’s workforce?

My career journey has not been a short one. When students or early careerists ask me how I got where I am in my career today, I have to remind people that I’ve been in health care for 22 years. Sometimes students graduate and want to walk straight into a leadership role. Quite honestly, you have to work your way through the ranks and pay your dues first.

What advice do you have for students and young alumni?

You have to do what you love doing, and not chase the money. When you’re doing something you love, something that drives you, something that gives you a sense of satisfaction while you’re doing it, the money will follow.

Interested in learning more about how our alums are succeeding in their fields? Join us for our Women in Leadership event during the 2016 Science and Technology Week.