SWE Logo - 2010

SWE and Me (Reports from WE12 this week in Houston, TX)

This is the first of what I hope will be a three part post about the Society of Women Engineers.  This week I am in Houston, Texas for WE12, the SWE national conference.  This is the fourth national conference I have attended and I want to talk about why I love both the organization and the conference.

I originally intended for this post to be a history of the Society of Women Engineers but then I realized that I would basically be reiterating what I found at SWE History and at SWE Wikipedia Page .  So instead, I will write about my history with SWE. (You can find my first discussion of SWE at My Other SWE Post .)

SWE helped me get an internship and then help me get my first job after undergraduate studies.   But the biggest impact of SWE has been the people I have met.

I remember attending the SWE welcome picnic my freshmen year, 2002, at the University of Kansas.  I liked the idea of SWE,  but was did not find time, at first, to be involved.  I attended meetings, periodically, but  did little else.  At the beginning of my junior year, I happened to be at the meeting at which officers were elected.  I sat with a group of my friends who nominated me first for treasurer and then for fundraising chair.  I accepted because it felt nice to be wanted.  I served as in these positions for the next two years.   As fundraising chair, I was responsible for managing and recruiting volunteers for a football concession stand that we shared with two other organizations.  People hated volunteering because it was hard work and sometimes gross.  I didn’t enjoy the concession stand, but I came to love the SWE women.

President of the student section while I was working at the concession stand, was intelligent, driven and resilient.  The amount of work she could do in a day inspired me.  Cassandra would work, then work out, then reorganize her kitchen.  With organizations like SWE, a few people must put in the work.  She was that person.  She made things happen.

After graduation, I moved to Utah, where I had no friends or family.  I emailed the president of the local professional section of SWE.  She asked if I wanted to be an officer.  I also met, Marilyn who had taken a non typical path to her work as an engineer.  Marilyn is older than I am and she became my friend and mentor.

When I enrolled in graduate studies  at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I found it difficult to relate to the undergraduate community.  I was old and cranky and liked to go to bed at 10:00 PM.  My new university had a very active SWE section and although I went to the events, I never felt like I belonged.  In 2010, I went to the SWE national conference in Miami.  Travel from Honolulu to Miami is hard.  When we arrived in Miami, I was exhausted, and, because of a  problem with our room, I was crabby, too.   Our section had reserved a room in advance and we had an extra bed.  Eva, from another university and arriving late, took the extra bed.  I woke up just long enough to be rude when Eva arrived at the room.  But she didn’t hold it against me.  The next morning, we found we had much in common.  Eva is funny, intelligent and a pitbull when it comes to getting things done.  The last year of my MS was difficult and, even though she lived in California and I was in Hawaii and even though we had only hung out for a few days in Miami, Eva became one of my best friends.  We still talk to each other about once a week and visit when we can.

I started PhD studies at Iowa State University in 2011. The SWE section there is huge and well run.  I was greeted at a special grad student table.  Bethany had completed her undergraduate studies at ISU and been very involved with SWE; but when she moved into the grad program she found that SWE was no longer meeting her needs.  So Bethany started the graduate committee.  There I have found a wonderful community of women engineering grad students who are willing to address the issue of gender in engineering.  This committee is the most productive group of which I have ever been a part and being a part of it has made me more productive.

I love SWE; it is an amazing organization that I have always been proud to be a part of, but the reason that I keep finding ways to be involved is because of the amazing ladies I have met there.  These women have become my friends but more than that they have become my mentors and inspiration in a field where I often feel alone.  The community that SWE provides has helped me more time than I can count to continue in my career in engineering.

Over the next few days I will be meeting new people, seeing old friends, and attending workshops discussing inclusion, grad school, career planning and some other interesting things.  I will be writing about SWE’s effort to attract  and retain women in STEM fields and why women engineering grad students have different needs than young professionals or undergrads.  If, by chance, you are also at WE12 this week and you want to meet up just say so in the comments!