Tag Archives: society of women engineers

SWE Helps to Fix the Grad Student Leak in the Pipeline (Reports from WE12 this week in Houston, TX)

This is my second post from the Society of Women Engineers National Conference, WE12, this week in Houston,TX. You can find my first (Lovefest over SWE) here.

I am a grad student. I have been a grad student for more than three years. I both love and hate it. I love that I have freedom to pursue things that interest me. I can set my own schedule. I have access to a student fitness center that would cost $50/month out in the “real world”. I love working with people who are enthusiastic about their careers. I love that students are willing to embrace new technology and techniques.

I hate that I have no expectation of rest or vacation whether I work 40 hours or 100 hours a week. No one cares. I have a master’s degree in engineering. If I worked in the “real world,” I would make at least $65,000 a year. I make quite a bit less than that. The casual, no consequences mentality of student life often frustrates me. Graduate school is sometimes isolating. You work alone; you may not be taking classes: and you feel constantly on the brink of failure. I am not the only grad student who feels this way. It is especially challenging for those of us who return to grad school from a career in industry. I worked in industry for two years and I miss the disposable income! I can’t even imagine being a PhD student with a spouse and/or children. From what I observed, it is exhausting. So people leave, women leave. Industry wants more women with Masters and PhDs and academia certainly wants more women faculty but first these women have to be grad students, tired, poor grad students.

The national organization of the Society of Women Engineers national organization recognizes that grad students are underserved. Today, in a discussion, this question emerged: How can SWE serve grad students alongside undergrads, who are not of a single demographic. A MS student who is studying at her undergrad institution may be perfectly content to attend a tailgating party with undergrads. A grad student in her 30′s, with children, may not care about the university’s football team and may not want to bring her kids to an event with alcohol. Both women are grad students and both may need the community available through SWE.

Another problem is funding. (Isn’t it always about money?). National SWE cannot recognize more than one SWE section at a single institution, meaning that a student section of SWE must serve all students. Universities and other sources of student organization funding may fund either graduate or undergraduate organizations, but not both. The national organization is beginning to realize that it may be important to allow grad student organizations some level of independence from the undergrad section.

Finally, how do we create a sustainable organization, one that will continue after key leaders move on? The answer seems simple: Before the leaders leave they must transition leadership to new people. That is easier said than done. On Thursday, I met another one of those dynamic women that I gushed about in my first post. Gwen is a grad student at a great school. She created the grad SWE organization at her university and she wants it to continue after she graduates. She is choosing to take on more responsibility in the regional and national organization and ask other people to work in the local organization.

So I ask you who are grad students: What have your experiences in grad school been? Do you feel connected to undergrads? What organizations do you value? How might SWE serve you more effectively? What might you do to encourage and support your sisters in graduate studies? How do you ensure something you worked on will survive when you graduate?

Interesting Links:

Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics from the American Association of University Women.

SWE’s Graduate Student Blog.

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!