WE14 – Empowering Women Engineers to Take More Challenges
My college’s engineering classes are mostly comprised of male students – typical. However, six weeks ago as I walked through the grand entrance of the Los Angeles Convention Center, I was greeted by thousands of women engineers – not so typical. What I learned and encountered from them gave me a whole new perspective about my field of study and future career.
From October 23-25th, I and more than 7,000 women, who work and study in STEM fields around the world, gathered for the Society of Women Engineers National Conference (WE14). I didn’t come alone; Representing Rutgers University’s collegiate section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), I and nine other students traveled to L.A. for the annual conference. Having grown up in New Jersey my whole life, it was an eye opener to meet people from all over the world with such diverse backgrounds and careers. For example, an industrial engineer from the US Navy advised me to take an optimization course at college, and I learned tips for applying to graduate school from a biomedical Ph.D. student from Texas. Over the course of the three days I learned a lot from all of the businesses and organizations that hosted numerous workshops, organized networking opportunities and professional development seminars, and participated in the huge career fair.
Women engineers gave “Lightning Talks,” in which they presented cutting edge research projects and emerging technologies. The concepts I’m learning in my Thermodynamics class applied directly to Con Edison’s talk about their massive underground steam system in New York City. In addition, Olufunmilayo Mafimidiwo, an electrical engineer from Nigeria, presented a 3D solar photovoltaic project she plans to implement in her home country. Finally, my favorite Lightning Talk was from a WindLogics employee who presented a new concept of a Smart Grid, an aspect of power electronics that I definitely want to explore in the future.
Motivational speakers gave inspirational leadership advice that complemented what Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book “Lean In.” For example, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc. Jo Miller inspired me to create my own “personal brand.” Everyone should try this: choose several positives adjectives and short phrases that uniquely describe you and the way you act (or would like to act), and reflect those qualities in your social profiles (Linked In, for example). The strength of having a personal brand shines in difficult situations because it can guide your actions in a manner that stays true to your values.
Connecting with Future Opportunities
More than 250 companies and organizations participated at the WE14 Career Fair, all seeking female engineers for positions ranging from interns to executives. Major car companies (Ford, GM, Chrysler) displayed their automobiles, while manufacturing companies like Honeywell showcased aircraft engines and turbines. These global companies were offering job opportunities that were located all over the US and were eager to schedule on-site interviews. My Rutgers SWE friends are now in different stages of the job application process with a lot of potential for job offers.
What all Women Engineers Need to Know
I have gained new confidence knowing that my career path as a woman engineer has been, in fact, carved by many. Statistics continue to show that only one in every five engineers is a woman, and countless studies are trying to determine why women are not choosing STEM careers. I think one reason is some women don’t realize just how much support and potential they have to be great leaders in technical fields. Events like WE14 reinforce why we chose the career paths we did and motivate us to take on bigger challenges. This event has inspired me and my fellow students at Rutgers, reminding us that we are not alone in our mission to reach new ground in the STEM fields; we are surrounded by women engineers all over the world who are innovating, leading, and loving what they do.
For more information about the conference, visit we14.swe.org.
Jaimie Swartz is a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey studying Electrical and Computer Engineering. She is also Treasurer of the Rutgers Collegiate Section of the Society of Women Engineers and part of the Rutgers Honors Academy. She plans to specialize in power electronics and one day take on a leading role in shaping the renewable energy industry.