Society of Women Engineers: Helping students achieve their potential for 50+ years
Katie Lenz discovered The Ohio State Society of Women Engineers (SWE) before she decided to attend the university and was impressed by the variety of activities they offer, from social events to professional development.
“I was looking for organizations that were going to help me create a community like I had in high school,” she explained. “I found the [Ohio State] SWE website and I was like, ‘This is where I want to be!’”
The electrical and computer engineering major progressed from helping plan the inaugural Engineering Ball during her sophomore year to serving as secretary to becoming SWE’s president this year.
“What kept me in the organization was that it had the resources to support me as an entire person,” said Lenz. “From the leadership opportunities to the group of women who were constantly advocating for me and pushing me to do more.”
Established in 1965, the Ohio State Society of Women Engineers aims to “stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity.”
Biomedical engineering major Kavya Narayanan also found her niche in SWE and appreciates the support it provides to approximately 200 members.
“The competitiveness in engineering definitely exists and it can be very toxic at times. I know that through SWE, no one's ever going to define me by my GPA or ask me what I got on my exam,” she said. “But they will cheer me if I do well on my exam or they're there for me if I didn't get that job interview. That was very important to me when I was finding groups of people that I wanted to surround myself with.”
For Narayanan, the ability to gain leadership skills is one of SWE’s biggest benefits. She served as Big-Little chair her sophomore year, is currently SWE’s secretary, and will be president next academic year.
“SWE gives you a lot of creative liberty to try new projects and take on what you're passionate about,” she explained. “It has given me the opportunity to be creative, but also learn some really fundamental skills in leadership that I will take throughout my entire career.”
The Ohio State Society of Women Engineers provides a variety of professional, social, and wellness events to support its members, as well as events that impact the broader community both on and off-campus.
Despite the pandemic, SWE hosted 64 virtual events fall semester, which is in line with their average of 100-120 events per year. In addition, 170 members participated in SWE’s Big-Little Mentorship Program this academic year.
“I've been super proud we haven't lost any facets of our organization through the pandemic,” Lenz said. “We've been able to keep all of the programs that we had before, as well as add some. Of those 64 events, 40 were brand new events that we hadn't tried before.”
One of the section’s most renowned events is the annual SWE Career Fair it co-hosts with Engineering Career Services, which also went virtual this year.
The group also offers a robust outreach program. This year they teamed with the Ohio State Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter to host six virtual CoolTechGirls Techno Fashion Challenge Workshops that taught girls about electrical and computer engineering. SWE also offered virtual engineering workshops with the Girl Scouts, created YouTube outreach videos and became pen pals with a school in Indianapolis.
In recognition of their service to and impact on the community, SWE received a 2020 College of Engineering Outstanding Student Organization Award. They also earned a 2020 Outstanding Professional Development Award from the WELocal Conference.
One of Narayanan’s passion projects is extending the section to include students at Ohio State’s branch campuses and Columbus State Community College. Thanks to the accessibility of virtual events, 16 regional or transfer students attended at least two Ohio State SWE events this year.
“Making sure that events can still be accessible is something that I will continue to make a priority next year in SWE as we go back to in-person,” Narayanan said.
Lenz has launched two initiatives during her tenure as a SWE officer. The Freshman Ambassador Program gives first-year students the opportunity to gain leadership skills by attending executive meetings and planning their own events.
“That gives them some great leadership opportunity early on that sets the stage for them to take higher positions as they grow throughout their college career,” Narayanan said.
This year Lenz also made care packages for SWE members who were in the university’s quarantine or isolation housing.
“I put together and delivered little care packages for them, just to let them know that someone cared while they're going through this extremely isolating process,” she explained.
Lenz and SWE Vice President Amanda Slager are two of the 15 collegiate members nationwide who received 2021 Guiding Star Awards from the Society of Women Engineers in recognition of their contributions as leaders.
“That meant a lot, especially with this year of leading in the pandemic, leading through the racial justice movement, really trying to make changes with SWE to be a better environment,” Lenz said. “Getting that award showed that I did lead SWE down a good path and kept us going through all of the challenges.”
by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org