Student Org Spotlight: Society of Women Engineers seeks to expand opportunities for women, gender minorities in field

Tulane senior Hailey Day, a chemical engineering major and secretary for Society of Women Engineers, works part-time at a Belle Chasse, Louisiana, refinery with two other Tulane students and a team of professional engineers. After starting at the refinery this semester, she quickly realized she was the only woman-identifying employee there, an experience she felt equipped to handle in part because of her involvement in the Society of Women Engineers.

“I have gained this empowerment through SWE, and I know that I do belong [at the refinery], so when I speak out or take initiative, they notice it more,” Day said.

She added that while she appreciates the recognition, “there is still this awareness that everyone I work with at that site is a man.”

Tulane’s SWE seeks to address the underrepresentation of women and gender minorities in engineering. Such underrepresentation is illustrated not only by workplace experiences like Day’s, but also by a 2012 Congressional Joint Economic Committee report, which notes that women make up only 14 percent of the engineering workforce in the U.S.

“When you’re out in the workplace, it’s good to be prepared for the fact that there will be a lot of men and to understand that but also know that you should be there too,” Rachel Russell, a junior biomedical engineering major and SWE president, said. “It’s kind of [an] empowering thing.”

In addition to preparing its members for the workforce, SWE also aims to build a community of engineers who can support one another during and beyond their time as undergraduate students.

“When I was a freshman engineering student, it can be really daunting, so to have a place where engineers of all different ages can gather in an informal setting, it can kind of make you feel like you have other connections on this campus,” Meghan Bush, a sophomore engineering physics major and SWE treasurer, said.

Courtesy of Rachel Russell
Tulane Society of Women Engineers pose together at a Boys at Tulane in STEM event last spring.

During the 2016-17 academic year, SWE members also had the opportunity to meet female engineers working in the field and hear about their triumphs and challenges.

“… It is difficult, but obviously they’ve succeeded,” Bush said. “That’s the path that so many of us are going to take, so to know that there are so many people who are out there doing it and succeeding, it’s a good feeling.”

SWE, which is open to all genders and gender identities, works to provide resources to its members on Tulane’s campus with resume workshops, mock interviews and research briefs from Tulane’s engineering faculty. The club also works with local K-12 schools to encourage younger girls and gender minorities to get involved in STEM fields.

“Especially for those younger students, it’s important to not let what other people tell you define what you like …” Day said. “I know how often I was only surrounded by men … and I just tried to ignore that and say, ‘I think this is awesome, and I’m going to do this too.'”

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