Exceptional Engineers

Tony Simmons

Statistics say only about 16 percent of those working in engineering fields are female, according to the Society of Women Engineers.

Two of Florida State University Panama City’s spring graduates are skewing that statistic locally. Both are nontraditional students, will receive their bachelor degrees in Electrical Engineering in May, and are already working fulltime in the area of Unmanned Systems Technology (or robotics) for the Navy’s NAVSEA department at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division.

“It’s not typical for a woman to be in STEM, but I beat all odds,” said Josie Acreman, a single mom raising a young daughter. “On social media, a lot of moms reach out to me and ask for encouragement or advice on getting started. That’s the hardest part, getting started.”

Acreman said she is also a role model for her child, who accompanied her to many night classes during her degree program.

“My daughter knows most of the professors here,” Acreman said. “She believes I can build anything. She loves STEM. She actually helped us with our Senior Design Project in engineering. She’s so proud of me, and that’s the best gift.”


Classmate Morgan Olsen, medically retired from the U.S. Coast Guard, used her G.I. Bill to go back to school. She started at Gulf Coast State College before transferring next door to FSU PC.

“I found a home here at FSU Panama City,” Olsen said. “The people, the location right on the bay. Everyone is amazing. The curriculum is rigorous, challenging but rewarding. There are so many reasons to come to FSU PC—small class sizes, you aren’t treated like a number. It’s very personal and you get to know your professors on a personal level.” 

Olsen was a Coast Guard Electrician’s Mate First Class when a shoulder injury resulted in surgeries and lingering pain. Becoming an electrical engineer has offered her a chance to continue her love of science and technology in a design capacity.

“Since I’m older, I have older person problems: bills to pay, having to work, navigating relationships,” Olsen said. “You have to sacrifice a lot in returning to school as a nontraditional student. The goal is to stay focused and not give up. It’s not far until you actually reach the end—and here it is.”


Acreman joked there was some speculation about her reason for choosing engineering: “Some say I’m crazy,” she said with a laugh. “But I did it because I have a love for engineering and electrical-anything, STEM—I have a passion for it.”

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs are male-dominated fields. According to the American Association of University Women, females make up only 34 percent of the STEM workforce and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.

Drilling into those statistics, Acreman noted that only about 11 percent of people in the electrical engineering field are women, “and single mothers is even less than that, so me walking across that stage is me beating every statistic and proving everyone wrong.”

Acreman added that she’s not only paving the way for her daughter, but she’s also teaching the men in her field a lesson in equality: “I don’t take smack from men. You’ve got to be tough-skinned. This blond girl walks in, and I always surprise them all.”

Both women acknowledged the assistance of professors, fellow students, family and friends who helped them through tough times.

“When they say that everyone here becomes family, they aren’t kidding,” said Acreman, who added that her favorite place on campus is the engineering lab.

“We are a pack. I can call anyone here today with a flat tire or for money, even, and they’ll come right out. They’re there for you.”
“No one is left behind,” Olsen said. “Everyone will make it to the finish line if you find the resources and the individuals that will help you get there, which this campus is full of. … Not only did I make sacrifices, but everyone in my life also made sacrifices. I just want to say how grateful I am for helping me get through this. And thank you to all the professors, my peers and classmates that also assisted me in this endeavor.”

Olsen and Acreman will walk the stage and receive their diplomas during Spring Commencement on May 5 at Tommy Oliver Stadium in Panama City.