Society of Women Engineers receives award and recognition

Credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor Credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor

The Carnegie Mellon chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) received the gold award for “Outstanding Collegiate Section” two weeks ago at the SWE national conference in Orlando, Fla. The Carnegie Mellon SWE chapter was one of only two collegiate sections to receive this recognition for its “outstanding overall program” for the 2009–2010 year.

The highly competitive Outstanding Collegiate Section award was given based on applications submitted by each chapter.

The application assessed several important focuses of a SWE collegiate chapter, including outreach, professional excellence, and diversity. Applicants were judged based on these criteria as a measure of the chapters’ ability to meet SWE’s strategic priorities.

Sixteen women from Carnegie Mellon attended the SWE national conference in Orlando to receive the award. Among them was senior electrical and computer engineering major Rachael Harding, president of Carnegie Mellon’s SWE chapter.

According to Harding, several things contributed to Carnegie Mellon’s SWE chapter’s recognition. Two of them are the annual High School Day and Middle School Day events, which expose high school and middle school girls to different fields of study within engineering.

“SWE has expanded its high school and middle school programs.... This past year we were able to really focus on these girls. We stood out because we’ve been expanding this program to include more women,” Harding said. “We also stand out because of our professional development.... The breadth of people we were able to get as speakers last year, and how it impacted our members, stood out.”

Harding also reflected on the opportunities that SWE members have to organize professional events such as the annual Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC). “I think that really makes our section outstanding, and it produces outstanding women.”

“I think for our SWE section it [the award] means that we are doing stuff right,” Harding continued. “We’re being successful, and we’re being recognized for that on this international stage. That’s exciting because sometimes members lose their motivation, the higher goal. ‘Why are we doing all this outreach? Why so much professional development...?’ So to have this pinnacle, this plaque, to show this award, shows everything we do culminates and integrates together to meet this mission. It’s more symbolic of our success. I think in a way this is going to inspire us to keep doing professionally managed events in the future.”

Also in attendance at the SWE national conference Nov. 4–6 was senior electrical and computer engineering major Michelle Stolwyk, the Carnegie Mellon chapter secretary. “Getting this recognition is a big deal. It lets us know we are doing the right thing,” she said.

Stolwyk shared what SWE has meant to her as a member throughout her undergraduate years at Carnegie Mellon.
“I was completely lost as a freshman, and now I feel like I could navigate the waters of the professional life, thanks to SWE’s professional development.”

She also recommends SWE involvement for any woman in CIT.

“There are so many things that SWE does. Even if you are not interested in professional development, there is other stuff too: mentoring, service opportunities. We have so many types of events that there is something to offer for absolutely everyone.”

Sophomore Zeinab Mohamed, a chemical engineering and biomedical engineering double major, is currently the SWE community service chair.

She said that attending the SWE national conference in Orlando “was a great, enriching experience. We had lots of great opportunities to network. It was also my first time to Orlando — it was wonderful.”

Harding also praised her chapter. “Our SWE members are really sought after in the industry because we’re so well-rounded; we have all this exposure to professional development, [and] we’re very active in the community, which is something that companies also look for. We come from Carnegie Mellon, so we have a lot of the depth. We’re really well prepared for going out into the real world after university.”