To educate the student population during Women’s History Month, the Society of Women Engineers MSU Chapter researches and creates posters about historic women in STEM. Since SWE became a national organization in 1953, it has gained membership in more than 400 collegiate and professional chapters in the United States and Puerto Rico, including the chapter of MSU as of 2019. Its mission is to ” enable women to realize their full potential in careers as engineers and managers; broaden the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion,” according to their website. Amber Seward, SWE president and head of mechanical engineering, was part of the team of women who created an SWE chapter at MSU.
“Establishing a chapter with the national SWE organization my freshman year at MSU and continuing to develop and unite women in STEM fields [have been big successes]“, Seward said. “I joined SWE so I could connect with the other young women studying engineering at MSU. We are in the minority when it comes to engineering, so I am grateful to have the opportunity to be part of SWE.
In 2017, only 13% of all engineers were women and only 26% of all computer scientists were women. Even at MSU, where more than 60% of students are women, Elizabeth Horn, an SWE secretary and sophomore in engineering, said she only sees one or two other women in her engineering classes.
“We have other engineering organizations… SWE is not a specific organization for a specific thing. It’s just a place where all women, especially in [a major] where you only see one [other woman] in your class each semester, can go out and meet new people,” Horn said. “Because it’s a male-dominated field. I know things are getting better job-wise, but it’s still to the point, at least in some places, where you’re not getting as much. You are not as respected. We just have to work together and work, unfortunately, work harder than them to get somewhere. At least, being all together in this organization, we can be much more comfortable going to SWE’s upperclassmen and asking them for help with homework or anything you don’t understand not.
Female engineers earn 10% less than male engineers for the exact same job, forcing women to work harder if they want to be considered equal to men in the job market. Seward said that’s why SWE exists to uplift women.
“It’s important because in engineering and STEM fields, which are usually predominantly male-dominated, women need to step up and work hard. Every day in the job market, there are differences in the roles of gender,” Seward said. “For example, I’m a waiter at a restaurant and I’ve been through that because my boss doesn’t like women doing heavy lifting when the inventory truck comes in. I think everything everyone should be equal and work hard alongside each other, especially in fields like engineering.
Horn said she joined SWE her first semester during freshman Roundup. She said she joined to make friends and get to know other women in STEM.
“Since the STEM field is a male-dominated field, [SWE is an organization] for women to … make friends and just have more opportunities and stuff,” Horn said.
In addition to building relationships, SWE participates in campus events like Engineering Week and forms study groups for female STEM students. This month they are producing flyers to raise awareness of the impact of women in STEM fields.
“We put together a small research project on different women and their impact on engineering and other STEM disciplines for Women’s History Month,” Seward said. “We’re putting up QR codes around McCoy and Bolin so students can scan and read about the women we’ve chosen to feature this month.”
SWE has five national core values: Integrity, Inclusive Environment, Mutual Support, Professional Excellence and Trust. Regarding the organization’s future plans, Horn said they are in the process of planning academic and social events, which will promote the core values of inclusive environment and mutual support.
“I know so far, at least with this semester, our plans have been to just do a few study groups with each other,” Horn said. “I know that Amber, the president, also wants to do a girls’ night. [Which would be] something that we can all just hang out with each other, be more comfortable with each other.
This comfort is key to encouraging women in STEM to continue working in their field, according to the SWE website. Horn’s main piece of advice that she would give to other female engineering students is to take advantage of opportunities to interact with other female students.
“Because you can make friends and also have someone else as a resource to help you with homework and things like that,” Horn said. “I would say that for anyone. I know this is something I probably needed when I came here as a woman going into engineering: don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to people in your class.