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Marilyn Jorgenson Reece

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Marilyn Jorgenson Reece

By: Amelia E Dunbar


     Marilyn Jorgenson Reece (b. 8 September, 1926 – d. 15 May, 2004) was the first female to become a registered Civil Engineer in the state of California. She was born September 8, 1926. She died at the age of 78 on May 15, 2004. She is an inspiration to many women who are breaching the gender gap in STEM Fields. She had many accomplishments in the Civil and Transportation Engineering industry.



     Marilyn Jorgenson Reece was born to Virgil and Marion Jorgenson on September 8, 1926, in Kenmare, North Dakota.  She was born of Danish decent.  Marilyn Jorgenson Reece grew up in a time when the majority of women were homemakers. [5] Women who worked outside the home usually worked in fields such as teaching or nursing. [4]

     Marilyn Jorgenson Reece graduated from Shakopee High School in Minnesota. She graduated in the class of 1944 as the salutatorian. [5] She studied Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota. [5] She graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering. Shortly after graduation in 1948 Marilyn Jorgenson Reece moved to California. [5] She started working at the California State Division of Highways which was later renamed the California Department of Transportation. [5] The department is currently referred to as CalTrans.[5] She started as a Junior Civil Engineer and in 1954 obtained her [4] PE making her the first certified female civil engineer in the state of California.[5] One of her most notable achievements was her design of the I-10 and I-405 Freeway interchange in Los Angeles. [5] The interchange is three levels of concrete art work. At the time of the interchange’s construction it was equipped with high-speed ramps and was the leading highway interchange in California.[3] The interchange was so effective it has been used as an example and inspiration on new construction projects. [3] The purpose of the design of the intersection was too decrease the traffic in such a dense and populated area. [3] The interchange is located near Sepulveda and Olympic Boulevards. [3]  Marilyn Jorgenson Reece was the Associate Design Engineer for the I-10/I-405, also known as the San Monica/San Diego Interchange. [5] During this project she worked closely with Carol Schumaker. [1] In 1964 at the age of 38 Reece received the Governor’s Design Excellence Award for the design of this interchange. [5] The San Monica/San Diego interchange was completed in 1964. [5] After her success of the I-10 and I-405 Freeway she became the first female Resident Engineer for Construction Projects at the Division of Highways. [5] Her first assignment as Resident Engineer of Construction Projects was at the I-605 Freeway. [5] She was named the Senior Transportation Engineer on the I-210 expansion project. [5] As of 1975 this project was the most expensive civil undertaking in California’s history. [5] The project was contracted for 40 million dollars. [5] The project was not only expensive but difficult. [5]

     Marilyn Jorgenson Reece retired in 1983 after working 35 years at CalTrans. [5] She was honored during Woman’s History Month in 1983. [5] The Los Angeles City Council honored Marilyn Reece for her extraordinary civil achievement and improvement to Los Angeles. [5] 

     In 1957 Marilyn Jorgenson married Alvin Reece who also was a Civil Engineer at the Division of Highways in Los Angeles. [5] Together they had two daughters, Kirsten Reece Stahl and Anne Reece Bartolotti. [5] Kristen Reece Stahl attended the United States Military Academy at West Point in the 1970s. [2] She was part of the second class of females to be associated with this prestigious school. [2] This was a feat by itself. West Point at the time was and still is a school known for being tough and producing strong soldiers for the United States. Stahl just like her mother breached the gender barrier but in their different ways.  Stahl also became a registered Civil Engineer. [2] Stahl is now a Senior Civil Engineer at CalTrans. [2]

     Marilyn Jorgenson Reece died May 15, 2004. [5] Her husband and two children survived her. [5]


Contributions to STEM

     Marilyn Jorgenson Reece is remembered as a woman who “paved” the way for many women in engineering. [5] She was one of the first female Civil Engineers and the first woman to become a Professional Engineer in the state of California. [5] One of her best and most remembered accomplishments was her design for the Interchange of the I-10 and I-405 Freeways in Los Angeles. [5]

      In 2007 the interchange of I-10 and I-405 was officially named to the “Marilyn Jorgensen Reece Memorial Interchange.” [2] She is also remembered by her colleagues and by women who are following her footsteps into the career of Civil Engineering.  A plaque in memory of Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, RCE, is located in the California Department of Transportation Headquarters Museum. [4] The plaque was given by the American Society of Civil Engineers recognizing her accomplishments in Civil Engineering. [4] A ceremony was held to remember her role in CalTrans and the surrounding area. [4] There were different speakers. [4] One was president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Kathy Caldwell. [4] Marilyn Reece rose from a Junior Civil Engineer to a Senior Transportation Engineer in 35 years. [4] The ceremony was not only to remind people of Marilyn Reece’s accomplishments in the world of Civil Engineering but to honor her for being a constant encouragement for future generations of women. [4]


 Interesting Facts

     Marilyn Reece raised two daughters. [2] One became a Civil Engineer. [2] She is not only known for being a great Civil Engineer but for inspiring a younger generation to pursue engineering.

     She was the first woman in California to obtain a PE.


Impact on 21st Century Society and Culture

        Marilyn Reece’s works not only affected Los Angeles, but her achievements affected the world. As a Civil Engineer she designed new and innovative highways.   As a female she breached one of the largest gender gaps. She was an incredible Civil Engineer who inspired other woman to pursue engineering as a career.


Works Cited

1.      Bishop, Peter. Bridge. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2008. Google Books. Web. 3

                        February 2014.


2.      Bonfilio, Jeanne. “I-10/I-405 Interchange Named for CalTran Pioneer Marilyn Jorgenson    

Reece.” Dot.ca.gov. Inside Seven-District 7 Employee Newspaper, January 2007: N.P. Web. 31 January 2014.


3.      “Carmageddon: Woman Designs 405-10 Interchange!” Ladailymirror.com. 15 July 2011.

Web. 4 February 2014.


4.      Markham, Kelly. “Now Showing in the Museum: Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Plaque,”

Dot.ca.gov. Inside Seven-District 7 Employee Newspaper, April 2010. Web. 31 January 2014.


5.      “Reece, Marilyn Jorgenson; ASCE Life Member (1926-2004).” ASCE.org. American

            Society of Civil Engineers.   N.D. Web. 31 January 2014.






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