Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Society of Women Engineers provides academic, social and professional support

RSO helps women engineers build community and offers various networking and professional opportunities
Courtesy of Alexandra Lazarov

The Society of Women Engineers is a registered student organization at the University of Massachusetts that “stimulates women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders.” With over 150 members currently, the RSO aims to be a social and professional resource for women engineers and hosts various events throughout the year to build community.

From sending members to national and local conferences to outreach and mentorship events, the UMass chapter of SWE is active in its commitment to professional development and the advancement of women in the engineering fields.

“SWE’s vision is to improve opportunities for any female-identifying students; [engineering] is a lot harder for people who aren’t white cis-males, so we try our best to cultivate a support system and provide professional, social and academic opportunities,” SWE President Alexandra Lazarov, a senior biomedical engineering major, said.

Some of these opportunities include networking nights, career fair preparation workshops and panels by various professional women in STEM.

To build community, the club also has a variety of social events each year for members to get to know one another, in addition to general body meetings and professional events. In the past, the club potted succulents, had a Bob Ross painting night and decorated cookies. At times, they discuss crucial issues for women engineers during these events, like talking about mental health and managing busy college schedules.

“I think it’s really impressive how the organization can balance being both a fun and relaxing environment and at the same time be a professional group working towards equity in engineering,” Claire Walko, a sophomore chemical engineering major and professionalism mentor at SWE, said.

The club also has multiple mentorship programs and works with students in grades K-12 to increase representation of women in STEM. They have a longstanding outreach program called “Girl Scouts Day” where they bring in Girl Scout troops across Massachusetts and help them get their computer science and mechanical engineering badges.

“I love SWE’s outreach work. We are really trying to show these young women that their ideas and perspectives not only deserve to be heard but are imperative in shaping the future of our world,” Walko added.

However, since the start of the pandemic, the club hasn’t been able to continue this program, which is one of the many goals they hope to achieve in the next few years.

They’re also interested in establishing more corporate partnerships for sponsorship and hosting more professional opportunities: “For SWE, I’d love to not only have an opportunity pipeline for our members, but also to get more financial aid, which would allow us to bring more people to the conferences and do skills workshops, like soldering or other similar skills, [which rounds] out the engineering skill set,” Lazarov said.

One of their other goals is reconnecting with alumni and strengthening those connections, ideally through a combination of networking nights, alumni newsletters and LinkedIn groups.

“Organizations like SWE provide important support for students that are underrepresented in engineering, where the majority of our students and faculty are still white males,” Paula Rees, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the College of Engineering, said.

“The opportunity for our students to come together with others with similar lived experiences is very important for health and wellness. It helps students identify role models and mentors, provides connection and raises awareness that they are not alone in facing challenges,” she added.

Elana Peisner, senior chemical engineering major and conference coordinator of SWE, said, “In my year, there’s about 10 female students out of 60 or 70 chemical engineering majors, so while it’s an above average [ratio], we’re still a minority.”

“It’s really great to have this community [SWE] that you can go and talk to and relate to, and to hear everyone’s stories about what they’ve experienced,” she added.

Sydney St. Marie, sophomore civil engineering major and Membership Coordinator, said she wanted to join SWE to be around women with similar passions. “I can have a break from my hard classes and relax and relate to these girls who have the same passions and interests outside of the classroom as me and want to do more social things with each other,” she said.

SWE currently has a MinuteFund open to send more members to the national conference. Previously, the group sent 10 students, but it hopes to increase the number.

“One of the most important things we can do is make sure that the culture surrounding engineering starts to change. Anyone can be an engineer, people just need the right support and encouragement to realize they are capable,” Walko said.

Interested in joining SWE? Students can sign up for their mailing list, email them, or contact them on Instagram.

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mahidhar_SL.

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