Supporting Women in Engineering From School to Career

“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you….” – Edmund Lee

An organization that I hold very close to my heart is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I was first introduced to SWE my freshman year at Cornell, and came to love the community, its network, and the support it provided to its members. The days I, like many, didn’t follow a derivation in lecture, ‘bombed’ that exam, identified myself as the imposter, or felt like I bit off more than I could chew, SWE was there to blow that self-doubt away, re-establish my confidence, offer inspiration, and remind me what I loved about engineering. Even more, SWE provided new friendships, mentors, and champions – I had support alongside myself, as well as behind and ahead of me. Those ahead of me advised on what stones to step on along the path that had been well paved by the early 2000s, and those alongside and behind made the journey less lonely. With this support, I blossomed and excelled.

Christine and members of the Cornell University Society of Women Engineers.
Christine and members of the Cornell University Society of Women Engineers.

As I grew through my collegiate career, I gave back to the organization that gave so much to me. I took on a variety of leadership positions at both the collegiate and Society level through graduate school, and sought to provide the community the same thing they gave me. One of the beauties of SWE, though, is that it’s not only a community; it’s also a team that strives to provide a safe environment for its members and future leaders to develop new knowledge, skills, capabilities, and experience in terms of leadership and professional development. From planning events to managing communications and evaluating the budget to leading the section, my experiences in SWE ultimately gave me many of the leadership and people skills I use at GE today.

Christine and the Cornell University Society of Women Engineers.
Christine and the Cornell University Society of Women Engineers.

“To be inspired is great, to inspire is incredible” – Unknown

“NY Capital District SWE Section” was one of the first things I typed into Google when I moved to Niskayuna and started working at GE. First adult job, new area, new people, no friends yet, living by myself – I needed SWE. The demands of work are different from that of college, and that resulted in a new flavor of SWE. Topics are now focused on work/life balance vs integration, career aspirations, failure, self-confidence (and how that changes entry-level vs. 2-5 years into the job), imposter syndrome, vulnerability, “lean in”, families, EQ, etc.

I similarly became involved in the section and its leadership, and am currently President of the section. While I still do love the professional development and support network aspects of SWE, the two most rewarding and inspirational initiatives that I’m involved in are the SWE Scholarship Program and outreach to young women curious about or interested in engineering. Our section’s biggest outreach event every year is our SWE Merit Award Dinner, which honors over 60 female students in the Capital Region with the SWE Certificate of Merit. These students, who are completing their junior year of high school, were chosen by the faculty and administration of their schools based on their achievements in math and science, their character, and their desire for a future career in a STEM field. The students and their families are invited to the dinner where they have the opportunity to listen to a woman keynote speaker pursuing a STEM career, network with peers, and connect with STEM professionals in the area.

The Capital District Society of Women Engineers 2015 Merit Award Dinner.
The Capital District Society of Women Engineers 2015 Merit Award Dinner.

The SWE Scholarship Program provides financial support to high school seniors, undergraduates, graduates, and those wishing to “re-enter” the engineering field. The GE Women’s Network has a Scholarship Campaign, and has raised over $1.4M for SWE’s Scholarship Program since 2002 and about 40 GE Women’s Network scholarships are awarded per year through SWE. The Capital District Women’s Network hub holds a series of events throughout the year to raise money for the campaign. Stay tuned for details later this year!

There is an African Proverb – “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That rings true in my experiences with SWE. This week marks National Engineers Week, and I’m thrilled to #BeThatEngineer.


8 Comments

  1. Dan H.

    Thank you. As a father of a daughter (entering Senior yr. in H.S.) currently exploring Biomedical Engineering, I take great comfort knowing these kinds of support systems are available to her. You can be sure this article will be dinner conversation tonight!

  2. pete

    Great stuff

  3. Nicola

    Working on this at the moment

  4. Rosie

    Interesting

  5. nicola anderson

    Great

  6. Berdj Rassam

    Great, positive thoughts expressed here! Thanks Christine!

  7. Kimberly Hammer

    I love this article! Thanks for writing Christine…I may have to get more involved in SWE!

  8. Nancy martin

    Fantastic ! Looking forward to many SWE and GE events. See you tomorrow at West Point.