Women engineers gain community, development through student society

Jill Steffen, conference chair, speaks to members during the Society of Women Engineers meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, at the Ralph G. Anderson Building in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Lauren Campbell


The Society of Women Engineers is a student organization that provides a thriving community of support for female students within the College of Engineering.This week, the UK chapter of SWE will have the chance to attend a national conference with women in collegiate sections of SWE across the U.S.


UK SWE’s Secretary, Tori Cambron, says this yearly conference allows SWE women to bond with members across the country while getting professional development opportunities.


“Each year, national SWE hosts a conference for professional and collegiate members to come together to connect and learn. This year, our chapter will be attending virtually, but there will still be plenty of opportunities for personal and professional development,” Cambron said.


UK SWE members met last Wednesday to prepare for the conference.


“Before the conference, our members got together to work on resumes, career fair skills, and simply bond with others in our organization. Then, over the next few weeks, members who are attending the conference will have the opportunity to listen to break out sessions, network with professional members, and attend the virtual career fair,” Cambron said.


Brittany Williams, president of SWE at UK, says the conference was supposed to be four days in New Orleans, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is now virtual and two-weeks long.


“This conference is a conference we would typically go to in some cool city, it was supposed to be in New Orleans, but now it’s fully virtual this year… It’s a two-week virtual conference, versus the four-day in-person one, so we’ll be able to go to new sessions which will be really cool,” Williams said.


Williams says the sessions with cover different skills SWE members will need when they land their first job.


“The sessions cover how to vouch for yourself in the workplace, being a woman in a male-dominated field, places you can take your career, and different companies. The best part of the sessions are getting to chat about them and getting our women ready for really great professional development,” Williams said.


The conference highlights the mission of the organization, and its four core pillars: belongingness, professional development, outreach, and diversity and inclusion. 


Locally, UK’s SWE organization has been hosting socially-distanced events to prepare the women for the conference and teach them about SWE’s pillars.


“Each of our SWE events includes one or more of these pillars so that our members will get a well-rounded experience by being involved with SWE,” Cambron said.


Through their Leaders and Learners Program, UK SWE hopes to foster a sense of belonging.


“Belongingness we do through our Leaders and Learners Program, which is essentially a fun event where we all get to hang out with each other and connect upperclassmen with underclassmen, talk about classes, professors, and give each other advice,” Williams said.


This year, due to COVID-19, students have gotten acquainted over Zoom.


“Normally we take 70 girls to Malibu Jacks to play games and laser tag, so this year it looks a little different… We did a virtual Bob Ross paint night that over 60 girls registered and attended. They got to pick up a canvas and paint that we provided, and everyone hopped on a Zoom call to follow along with a Bob Ross paint tutorial and then show each other our canvases,” Williams said.


SWE members get professional development through speakers at meetings, the national conference, and helping host the College of Engineering’s Career Fair.


“Our second pillar, professional development, we do though speakers at all of our meetings, and the SWE Conference every year. In the past, we’ve been in places like Anneheim, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Austin, Texas. We send the most members of a collegiate section around the country. We sent 53 girls to Anaheim last year. We also help host the College of Engineering’s Career Fair,” Williams said.


To achieve their outreach pillar, UK SWE partners with local schools in Lexington.


“We do a lot of outreach on campus and in the Lexington area to help encourage women that engineering is an option for them, that they can do it. We go to William Wells Brown, a local elementary school, and meet with the fourth and fifth grade girls there to tell them what engineering is, how they can go after it, and get them excited about possibly going after a career in the STEM field one day,” Williams said.


However, because of COVID-19 and not being able to host events for younger students, SWE has sent out science kits and provided video lessons for elementary girls in Lexington.


“We used to go every other week to William Wells Brown Elementary, but instead we’ve switched to a virtual program… And instead of doing one elementary school, we can do it at elementary schools all around Lexington… We mail the kids science kits to do experiments and make a video for them to follow along and learn about the science behind it,” Williams said.


They also award the students for their work in science.


“We get to send them t-shirts and candy when they complete their experiments. So we still get them exposed to science and technology that encourage them that engineering is an option,” Williams said.


Williams says their newest pillar, diversity and inclusion, is very important for the organization. SWE hosts diversity and inclusion networking nights to ensure all students are represented.


“It’s always been a priority of SWE to make sure women feel equally represented in the STEM field and have that equity throughout their career. Also ensuring all minorities in the engineering field can have the same opportunities. We started hosting diversity and inclusion networking nights last year, where companies interested in specifically hiring diverse talent come in to meet with our students and form those relationships,” Williams said.


Cambron says students need a community to exceed in engineering, which SWE can provide.


“You shouldn’t try to succeed at engineering alone. Engineering is challenging enough as it is, so working with others and using the resources around you can make all aspects of college more enjoyable and beneficial,” Cambron said. 


And while colleges and academic services are helpful, it’s also important to find a social network to support you.

“UK is a large university, so if you can find your small group or niche on campus, especially by joining a student organization, you will have a strong group of friends that can inspire you and motivate you to achieve all your goals,” Cambron said.


Any female-identifying student interested in engineering is welcome to join SWE.


“The best way to learn about upcoming events is to join our emailing list by visiting our website  at uky.swe.org. You can also learn more about our organization by visiting our BBNvolved page or following us on Instagram @swe.uky. SWE is a no pressure organization. You can participate to the extent that you have time and interest. Feel free to jump in at any time,” Cambron said.