Four sisters. One apartment. And one fiercely competitive, male-dominated engineering school. It could be the premise for an MTV reality series, but to Teresa, Tamara, Tawnya, and Katheleen Muhic (left to right in photo), it was simply real life at Colorado School of Mines.
All four sisters graduated with engineering degrees in the eighties – both Tamara ’82 and Tawnya ’85 in chemical, Teresa ’85 in petroleum, and Katheleen ’88 in petroleum and mechanical. And they all went on to forge successful careers in engineering, at a time when men outnumbered women in the profession by roughly 10 to 1.
Daunting? Not to the Muhic girls. “We didn’t have brothers growing up,” says Katheleen, “so we were the sons as well as the daughters at home. We used pick axes and shovels and hammers and worked cattle and bucked hay, got dirty and greasy, and did anything a boy would have done in our family.”
Working the family ranch marked their childhood, but it was actually a sideline for their parents, who were both educators: Tom Muhic was an administrator and baseball coach at the University of Southern Colorado, and Joyce was an elementary school teacher in Pueblo.
Together they set high expectations for their daughters, who in turn rose to the challenge: They all drew straight A’s at Pueblo County High School, while starring at volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, and track and field – at one time, the Muhics held three of the four positions on a relay team. “We’d done everything boys could do up to that time,” says Tamara, “so why not study engineering? What was the big deal?”
Tamara arrived on campus in fall 1978, to be joined three years later by younger sisters, Teresa and Tawnya. “Because of Tammy’s experience,” Tawnya says, “we knew what kind of opportunities a Mines graduate could get coming right out of college … We knew about the prestige associated with a Mines degree.”
“But we also knew how hard we’d have to work,” Teresa adds, “because we had watched Tammy go through it.” During weekends, Tammy often studied in her room for eight hours at a stretch.
In Golden, the sisters shared an apartment off campus, which became a family hangout, study hall, tutoring center and emotional safety net. “I remember a time when my sisters were helping me prepare for a physics test,” says Katheleen. “They’d taken physics, so they knew what I was up against. And one of them actually started dreaming about the test and losing sleep – over my test!”
When Katheleen arrived in 1983, Tawnya and Teresa helped their younger sister wrap her mind around drafting. “Visualizing the object in 3-D and rotating it mentally just didn’t come easily,” Katheleen remembers. “So Tawny brought home some modeling clay and molded it to replicate the objects in my assignments. That helped me learn to visualize.”
The same spirit of mutual support has continued into adulthood. All four sisters married; they have raised eight children among them, moved in and out of Colorado, and changed employers and job titles many times over. By happenstance, the sisters are currently paired in two cities: Tawnya (Chott) and Katheleen (Thurston) live in Sedalia, south of Denver, while Tamara and Teresa (Muhic) both live in Cody, Wyo.
Because they are all working as engineers, they also support each other in their professional lives. It is routine for one sister to ask another for a referral or technical advice. “They’re the first people I call,” Tamara says. “I’ve called Katheleen to ask her how she does safety-relief valve sizing. Another time I called Teresa up and asked her to tell me everything she knows about gilsonite and produced water – we had about an hour-long conversation,” she chuckled. “In my current job, I’m involved in air-quality permitting, and that’s Tawnya’s specialty – she’s one of the top experts in the country.”
The Muhic girls have long since proved that they can compete with the boys – but having each other makes the job a little easier. “This is a tough profession for women for many reasons,” she says. “You have to be tough to do it. And you have to have support.”
As individuals and as a family, the Muhic sisters are blessed with both.