WILLMAR - Anita Flowe was one of very few women pursuing degrees in mechanical engineering when she earned hers in 1983 at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

As a white woman, she was a minority student on campus when she earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, America's largest historically black college or university.

And she broke some ground as a woman focused on research when she earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and later, a graduate degree in computational fluid dynamics at the University of Toledo. All of this followed engineering experience in private industry positions in the manufacturing sector.

Now, the 57-year-old Flowe has set her sights on the Minnesota Legislature as the DFL-endorsed candidate for House District 17B, which includes Willmar and the northern two-thirds of Kandiyohi County. She believes the problem-solving skills that science has taught her are very much in need. And, she has plenty of zeal.

"I've got lots of energy to go into something,'' said Flowe after explaining that she has not found opportunities for the engineering research work she loves available in Willmar. She is a musician who performs on drum and bass guitar in the area. She and her husband, Dr. Ken Flowe, have made Willmar their home since he joined Rice Memorial Hospital as its chief medical officer in 2012. They are parents to two adult children.

The high cost of health care is the number one issue Flowe said she hears while door-knocking in her quest to unseat the Republican incumbent, Dave Baker. She believes the state should play a role in helping bring costs down. She favors allowing more to buy into the MinnesotaCare health insurance program. She wants to focus on bringing down costs for farmers and small business owners in the independent market.

Flowe also wants to see more done to address the unmet needs for mental health care and addiction treatment in rural areas.

Housing and child care are pressing needs and critical for economic growth, according to Flowe. She realized the importance of child care when the first person raising the issue to her on the campaign trail pointed out that he did not have children himself but was well-aware of the problems faced by his co-workers with children. He was often called in to cover for them because of it, Flowe explained.

Not surprisingly, infrastructure needs are top on this engineer's agenda as well. "My goal is to keep Minnesota out of engineering textbooks," Flowe said. "They have enough failures to study already,'' she said, explaining that she once took an engineering class on analyzing failures in bridges and structures.

Minnesota is falling behind on maintaining its transportation infrastructure, Flowe said. "We're not taking care of what we have,'' she said. She would support using a portion of an expected budget surplus to help meet those needs. She would support an increase in the gas tax "if necessary."

As for education, "funding cuts are out,'' said the candidate. We need to pay teachers and make sure they are supported professionally, she said. She also advocates for mentoring programs and efforts to address a high dropout rate among new teachers.

Flowe said she's heard racist comments and fear-based views on the region's immigrant population while campaigning. Elected leaders need to speak out against the hate and dispel fear. The community needs to appreciate the important role our newest residents play in the economy, she said, and provide training and opportunities so that people can realize their potential.

Flowe said she is attuned to agricultural needs in the district as well. She supports tax relief for lands taken out of production and put into buffers. She favors university research focused on agricultural needs.

This is Flowe's first run for a public office. Minnesota's way of doing things with its caucus system drew her into it, she said. By getting involved, she found that she could play a positive role, she explained.

She wants the opportunity to speak up for everyone in the community, and apply her problem-solving skills and science background on the issues facing the district and state.

There are more women today pursuing careers as engineers and in the sciences than when she first started her studies. It's time now for more people trained in the sciences to become legislators and help solve challenges.

"When engineers are in politics, we're not dirty. We're nerdy,'' said Flowe, laughing.