CLASS OF 1997: Valentina Videva Dufresne ✯ Rewriting History

Today, as director of process development and product management for Sensata Technologies, Valentina Videva Dufresne ’97 leads the teams responsible for technology that will enable self-driving cars. (Photo courtesy of Meghna Kamble.)

Today, as director of process development and product management for Sensata Technologies, Valentina Videva Dufresne ’97 leads the teams responsible for technology that will enable self-driving cars. (Photo courtesy of Meghna Kamble.)

When Valentina Videva Dufrense ’97 first walked into Professor Leonard Gambler’s Fourier series class as one of only two mechanical engineering students—and as the only woman in the room—she knew exactly where she was: in an advanced course outside her major that she’d elected to take for the challenge.

But her classmates weren’t convinced she was in the right place. “Someone looked at me and asked, ‘Why are you in this class? Are you lost?’” she recalls, chuckling. “They didn’t ask my male counterpart if he was lost. So I turned their doubt into motivation; soon, I was tutoring those same students!”

Determination is Valentina’s hallmark. Combined with her innate intelligence and ability to seize opportunity when it presents itself, it also explains her remarkable achievements in a male-dominated profession.

Born and raised in Macedonia, Valentina says that it was “very acceptable for girls to be good at math” there. In fact, she’d already mapped her life’s direction based on her aptitude for the subject: She would study computer programming at the University of Belgrade, then work at a new technology center in the city.

But a series of detours altered her course.

First, a misfiled college application routed her into a highly selective mechanical engineering program at the university. Then Yugoslavia fell apart.

“As the unrest intensified, I knew I needed to get out,” she explained. That decision ultimately led her to Norwich.

Perplexed, but not deterred, by her classmates’ assumptions, Valentina vowed to actively challenge the biases that too often prevent women from thriving in STEM-based careers. “Female engineers often lack role models,” she explains. “I always ask, ‘Who am I trailblazing for?’”

After graduating summa cum laude from Norwich, Valentina joined Sensata Technologies (formerly Texas Instruments)—where she has steadily risen through the ranks. “Whenever I felt comfortable in a role, I knew it was time for a new challenge,” she says. Her innovations, business results, and leadership expertise have earned her a seat on Sensata’s technical staff; only 5.5 percent of her colleagues achieve this honor globally.

As a founding member of Sensata’s engineering council diversity committee, Valentina also works to improve the hiring, retention, and leadership development of women. “We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years; Sensata now has a female CEO,” she says. “But there’s more work to be done, and I’m delighted to help lead that change.”

Her initial experience in Professor Gambler’s class notwithstanding, Valentina fondly recalls Norwich as a “welcoming home away from home” that nurtured her intellect and fully prepared her for a career in engineering. “In Belgrade, we focused on theory,” she says. “I arrived on the Hill knowing I was ‘book-smart,’ but the real-world experiences that Norwich offered were indispensable.”

As will be her example for the next generation of female engineers. –Jane Dunbar

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