Ramona Graves: The face of petroleum engineering

Only the second woman in the country to earn a doctorate in petroleum engineering, Ramona Graves PhD ’82 found her passion—but it wasn’t what she thought it would be.

By Lisa Marshall

On her first morning of classes at Colorado School of Mines in 1977, Ramona Graves walked into Stratton Hall and stopped to ask the secretary for directions to the ladies’ room. The answer she got said a lot about the industry that the young Nebraska transplant was stepping into.

“She said, ‘Go out this door, then one block over and one block right,’” recalls Graves. “I looked at her and said, ‘Pardon?’ There were no women’s facilities in the building. I had to go to the student center.”

At the time, less than 2 percent of engineers in the United States were women, and Graves was one of only a handful of female students on the Mines campus. No woman in the U.S. had ever earned a PhD in petroleum engineering, and those trying to break into the field faced an uphill battle.

“It was this totally male-dominated culture,” recalls Graves, a sharp, spirited redhead with a reputation for straight talk. “It was not a welcoming environment for women. It is now.” (In May 2013, Mines awarded more degrees to women than in any previous graduation ceremony.)

Thirty-four years later, Graves had become—as Provost Terry Parker puts it—“the face of petroleum engineering at Mines.” Through more than three decades of teaching, she has helped usher into the field hundreds of adoring students from around the world. Her research, largely focused on reservoir characterization and the use of lasers to drill for oil, has advanced the field. And as the Petroleum Engineering Department head from 2007 to 2012, she helped grow the program, building its diverse faculty and shaping the department’s glistening new $27 million home, Marquez Hall.

Today, after six months as inaugural dean of the newly formed College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering, the 62-year-old Graves says she is just getting started.

Read the rest of this story on the Mines magazine website.

This story appeared in the Summer 2013 issue.