SWE, WiC-MiC student groups help promote women in STEM
Kate Korslund ’20 of mechanical engineering helps Girl Scouts build Hollywood ‘movie sets’ with marshmallows and toothpicks at a Girls Day hosted by the Society of Women Engineers.
While attending the 2018 Society of Women Engineers national conference, Mira Bodek ’19, a mechanical engineering major, walked up to a Boeing Co. stand, spoke briefly with a representative, then offered her resume.
“To my shock, she invited me to their speed interviews later that night,” says Bodek. “I was floored that such an incredible company, one so often in the news, would be even remotely interested in me. As a woman in engineering who often questioned if she belonged in the industry, this single interaction completely changed how I viewed myself.”
That’s a classic example of what the Society of Women Engineers is all about. Established in 1950, SWE’s mission is to “empower women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand 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."
Members of the University of Rochester student chapter of SWE, which currently has about 50 members, benefit from attendance at national conferences, and from networking with professionals, industry tours, workshops, and monthly social events.
But they also give back. Each semester they organize a themed, Girls Day workshop that engages 5- to 12-year-olds in science and engineering experiments, along with plenty of encouragement that, they, too, can someday be engineers and scientists.
“It’s a fantastic program,” said Matthew Wallace, a business analytics administrator for Wegmans Food Markets, who brought his daughter to the “Hollywood” themed Girls Day in Fall 2018. One of the experiments involved teams of girls figuring out creative ways to build a Hollywood “movie set” out of toothpicks and marshmallows.
By bringing his daughter to this event, Wallace said, she will take more interest in the science-related activities he encourages at home. More importantly, “it leads to a dialogue,” Wallace says. “I can’t always lead her to the science, but I can answer the questions and be there when she finds a project that interests her. And this is one way of doing that.”
WiC-MiC builds community
Mikayla Konst ’17 helps a student learn coding during a Women in Computing tutoring event at the Harley School in Rochester.
“You don’t need a lot of experience . . . anybody can do coding,” Mikayla Konst ’17, a computer science major, told students at the Harley School in Rochester in 2016. “Why do I like computer science? It’s literally magic. I’m putting words on a page, and it’s doing these incredible things.”
Women in Computing/Minorities in Computing (WiC-MiC) is another student organization working hard to increase the representation of women in STEM, especially in computer science, a field with particularly low diversity.
The organization was created after Sandhya Dwarkadas, then chair of the Department of Computer Science, secured its participation in the BRAID initiative in 2014. The initiative has helped the department dramatically increase its numbers of women graduates to roughly 30% each year since 2017 -- well above the national average.
BRAID funding has also helped the department send women students each year to the Grace Hopper Celebration, starting in Fall 2014. The world's largest conference of women in computing gives students an opportunity to meet female role models, learn networking skills, and meet company representatives to talk about internships and jobs.
“The momentum subsequent to the group’s return (from the Fall 2014 conference) helped us identify leaders, start our new UR Women in Computer group, and set some important goals,” the department’s Multicast newsletter reported. The organization began with about 30 members as a subcommittee of the Computer Science Undergraduate Council (CSUG). Their goal was to build a sense of community among the growing numbers of women students in the department.
The group worked with CSUG and Dwarkadas to sponsor department “town hall” meetings to address concerns among female students about professor approachability, TA sensitivity, and having study spaces where women could feel comfortable. WiC also contributed significantly to the department’s outreach efforts aimed at building a pipeline for increasing the enrollment of women in computer science. WiC members have visited schools like Harley, conducted a Girls Who Code program for local high school students, and worked with a local Girl Scout chapter. “This is all on their own initiative; there are no faculty telling them to do this,” Dwarkadas says, “and I think it’s fantastic.”
Now numbering about 200 members, the group recently renamed itself WiC-MiC –adding Minorities in Computing in recognition of the work that still needs to be done to recruit students from other underrepresented populations.
UR WiC-MiC was awarded the 2020 Meliora Values Award for Equityas part of the University’s Student Life Awards.
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