Despite a national stereotype towards male domination the industry, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a national educational and service organization with college chapters nationwide, empowers women to achieve their full potential as engineers and as leaders.
Lesley Telford, the president of the Cal Poly chapter, said that the student club creates an outlet for women to explore their interest in the engineering industry and become part of a community with similar motivations.
“Having a lot of us goes against the stereotype,” Telford said. “I feel that SWE on a national level has done a good job in showing that women can be engineers and can be successful.”
In providing career and scholastic resources built around promoting a voice for women in the industry, SWE is on the right track with changing roles of contemporary women, according to a report by California First Lady Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
In a nationwide study released two weeks ago, titled “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” it was determined that for the first time in history, half of all U.S. workers, including all professions, are women.
Karen Bangs, the faculty advisor for the Cal Poly chapter, feels that the club supports the new statistics by encouraging women to not be deterred by technical careers.
“Every once in a while there will be some opposition, but in general it is a very supportive industry and college,” Bangs said.
The Cal Poly chapter of SWE does a lot to support women engineers and has the awards to prove it.
Twenty members from the Cal Poly division attended The Society of Women Engineers’ National Conference, the largest annual woman engineers’ conference in the U.S., from Oct. 15-17 in Long Beach, claiming first place for the seventh time since 2002 for the Large Outstanding Collegiate Section on the Gold Level.
Other awards presented to Cal Poly included tying for first place for both Cal Poly Team Tech groups (a technical engineering competition) and first place for Outstanding Outreach Event for “Building an Engineer Day.”
Kendra Rowley, vice president of outreach for the club, said that “Building an Engineer Day” has had the most impact on younger students by helping them to realize that women can pursue stereotypical male-dominated careers.
For this event, middle school students come to the campus and participate in four engineering labs led by professors and students. Last year, the Cal Poly division of SWE led more than 400 middle school students through the event, the largest amount of students than ever before.
“We want to expose younger students to engineering,” Rowley said. “There are statistics that say something like fourth and fifth grades are when students are the most discouraged by math and science. We want to get them to try it out and even if they decide they don’t like it, at least they were exposed.”
In addition to organizing community outreach events, the club holds events to help college students to meet others with their interests, develop leadership skills and prepare themselves for careers. Such events include three industry tours per quarter, in which Cal Poly students take tours of engineering companies including Ernie Ball, NetApp and Lockheed Martin. Another event is the Team Tech competition, in which they are given a technical assignment with a company, which is Mazzetti this year.
As for opportunities for networking, internships and jobs, the biggest networking event of the year is “Evening with the Industry,” which includes a social hour and dinner with about 35 engineering companies.
Companies such as Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard, Chevron, Amazon, Accenture and Northrop Grumman buy tables and students are able to choose which table they sit at. It provides a chance for students to network with companies that they are interested in and to get internships or jobs.
The passion and dedication of the 46 student officers is what makes these events possible, Bangs said.
“It’s such an honor to work with men and women that have a passion for supporting women’s growth in this industry. I see them grow, mature, and become more confident in their leadership skills. I always tell them it’s not all about winning the awards, but about what you learn during the process,” Bangs said.
Many of the officers said that the biggest thing they’ve learned is that they play an influential role in the changing roles of women in society by getting more women to realize that they can be successful in technical careers.
“When I was in charge of outreach two years ago, I got a couple of e-mails saying, ‘My child now wants to be an engineer.’ Even if they were not interested in math or science, the program made them want to be an engineer,” Bangs said. “Just the idea that I was able to make a difference in people’s lives was really great.”