Society of Women Engineers fosters professional growth

Clarissa Davies

The College of Engineering at Colorado State is about 21 percent women, which is above the national average of women in engineering fields at 18 percent.

Members  of the Society of Women Engineers at a National Conference in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Society of Women Engineers
Members of the Society of Women Engineers at a National Conference in Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: Society of Women Engineers)

For two decades, the local chapter of Society of Women Engineers at CSU has encouraged female students to grow as engineers.

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The SWE has a professional focus that involves job preparation, leadership skills and interaction with future employers. Many of the SWE members hold leadership positions on campus.

“The society as a whole is about professional development,” said Terry Comerford, director of the Engineering Success Center and faculty adviser. “It’s about finding meaningful careers in engineering, and we do whatever it takes to help them along their way.”

The SWE does not limit its members — males can join, too.

“It’s a gathering of people who support women in engineering,” said Amanda DeCann, a mechanical engineering major and president of the SWE. “You don’t have to be an engineer, and you don’t have to be a woman to join.”

Meetings often include an opportunity to network, while also focusing on community outreach.

“Our general meetings include bringing in women from the industry, and learning about how they balance family and being an engineer, because that’s important to our membership,” DeCann said.

The SWE influences young girls and sparks their interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, which are male-dominated industries. The SWE is also involved in nonprofit organizations, such as Pretty Brainy, which teach girls how science, technology, engineering, arts and math can have meaning and purpose in their lives.

Outside of the SWE environment, engineering classes offered at CSU can be difficult and challenging, according to Hannah Mikelson, biomedical and mechanical engineering major and vice president of the society.

“The hardest classes are the most fun,” Mikelson said. “It’s hard, but it’s rewarding.”

Though classes may be difficult, they keep students interested.

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“Every day it’s challenging, and there’s always something new,” DeCann said. “But, you’re never bored.”

For many female STEM majors at CSU, they feel at home despite the consistently male-dominated environment.

“Coming in as a freshman when you’re in a room full of guys is intimidating, but as far as the CSU community goes, I have never felt alienated,” DeCann said. “I don’t feel that my success in classes is determined by my gender.”

Many SWE members credit their success to the strong support system that the society offers.

“I had always been good at math and science,” DeCann said. “You can be good at math and science, but if you don’t have the passion and support group behind you, then it won’t be fulfilling.”

Some female engineers in the SWE believe they have grown from being in a male-dominated environment.

“I liked the male-dominated environment because it was different,” Comerford said. “You’ll find that about most female engineers — we don’t pull away from a challenge.”

Collegian Reporter Clarissa Davies can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @DaviesClarissa.