SOPHIA LIU/Mustang News.

Cal Poly’s Society of Women Engineers chapter won the Outstanding Collegiate Section Gold Award at the SWE National Conference this past month.

Samantha Sullivan

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Recovering pharmaceutical drugs from cow pee — that’s what Cal Poly’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter did to win third place at the annual SWE conference Team Tech competition this past month.

The point of the project, completed by Cal Poly’s SWE chapter, was to extract pharmaceutical drugs out of urine, said Cinthya Mendez, a mechanical engineering junior and co-director of Team Tech. The team started off with 100 percent of the drug and mixed it with cow pee to simulate going through the digestive system. Mendez said the team was able to get 60 percent of the drug back.

A benefit of this process is that the drugs can be reused, as well as toxins from the drugs can be taken out of the water supply, so fish and humans don’t ingest the toxins, Mendez said.

While the team was excited to win third place, they were also disappointed, she said.

“We wished we did a little better and we expected to do a little better,” Mendez said. “But we were still excited because we won the prize.”

Mendez said the team has won first, second or third place overall in the nation for the past 12 years.

This upcoming year’s Team Tech project involves the team working with Disney “to create a non-slip navigation sub-system,” Russell Wong, electrical engineering junior and Team Tech co-director, said.

That, however, is all Wong is allowed to say on the project.

“It’s supposed to be extremely vague because Disney doesn’t want us to discuss our project in too much detail,” Wong said. “They had all of our team sign non-disclosure agreements.”

The team has worked with Disney in the past, Wong said. Every time, they’ve won.

“So we plan on winning again,” he said, “and destroying the competition.”

Cal Poly’s SWE chapter as a whole won the Outstanding Collegiate Section Gold Award at the SWE National Conference this past month. It is the third year in a row the chapter has won the award, and the 10th time since 2002.

Chapter President and environmental engineering senior Jessica Klemme said Cal Poly SWE holds itself to a higher standard than other schools.

According to Klemme, the gold award is given to sections within SWE that are held to a certain level, that submit their paperwork on time and go above and beyond expectations, among other community projects and outreach events.

“They think that we’re outstanding,” Klemme said. “And we tend to agree.”

Outstanding SWE Counselor Helene Finger, the chapter’s adviser and director of women engineering programs, was given the challenge by former Dean of the College of Engineering Peter Lee to make the Cal Poly chapter the largest SWE section in the nation, she said.

“I was honored to get that award,” Finger said. “It was a very exciting time at the award ceremony to have alumni and students there and just a nice way to celebrate all the work we’ve done here at Cal Poly.”

Finger started teaching in the civil and environmental engineering department in 1997. She became the advisor in 2000.

SWE exists to promote engineering as a career opportunity to women, Finger said. The goal of SWE is to one day work themselves out of a job, she said.

“The world needs to have engineers to help make solutions to problems that we have now,” Finger said. “And when we are missing women from that we are missing a whole dynamic that could help with some creative solutions.”

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