Empowering young women in the STEM field!

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Society of Women Engineers (SWE) exemplified what it means to empower women on campus and at local high schools to pursue a career in the STEM field.  In their student organization, they offer opportunities to help their members take the next steps in advancing their academic and professional career such as: networking, scholarships, diversity training, and mentorship from female STEM professionals.

SWE also serves as a support group to one another. “Some of us feel discouraged in the field and sometimes question our journey… you don’t feel comfortable talking in classrooms full of guys…it’s hard to connect,” said Mary Sanchez, SWE’s current vice president and Women’s Shadow Day coordinator. Sanchez also notes SWE’s main objective is to empower women that they can do it!”

To inspire the next generation of female engineers, researchers, software developers, and more in the local community, SWE is known for hosting Women’s Shadow Day event where they recruit local high school girls who are interested in a career in STEM. They spend a day a Sacramento State to learn more about this field.  Last year, they had the biggest turn out with 70 – 80 attendees out of the 150 that applied.  In the past, they would have less than 20 that would attend. This was accomplished due to the amount of hard work and outreach efforts done by the SWE executive board members.  They spent their summer breaks planning the program and strategically targeted high schools that had the lowest math/STAR testing scores in hopes to increase the number of female students applying for STEM majors despite low scores.

Srishti Thakur, SWE’s former vice president, believed outreaching to high schools where their members graduated from was more meaningful than email. Due to this personable approach, their former treasurer recruited 40 students from her school.

“There are so many concentrations in engineering and we want to help students be aware of those other areas [civil engineering, computer science, electrical/electronic, and mechanical],” said Srishti.  There seems to be an underlying assumption that the engineering field is just a one area of study and SWE wanted to clarify that perception as early as possible to incoming high school students.

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(High school students in a laboratory session at SWE’s Women Shadow Day, March 2016)

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(Women’s Shadow Day panelist of students, professors, and deans; March 2016)

Women’s Shadow Day occurs every spring break of their local high school’s academic calendar so that the high school attendees will not have to miss school for this opportunity.  The event kicks off early morning until mid-afternoon with workshops, panel discussions, campus tours, and hands-on labs that were hosted from Sacramento State’s own female college students in the STEM field and from engineering professors.

Both Sanchez, Thakur, and SWE were thankful for all the professors and deans in the engineering department who continue to support and devote their time outside of their busy lives to talk to the high school students about their own personal journey. “They were encouraging of our event and could not have done it without them,” Thakur said humbly.

During last year’s Women’s Shadow Day, the program left quite an impression on participants. By the end of the day, they were already asking about enrolling to Sacramento State— some only in their first year of their high school career!  Sanchez and Thakur’s expressed how empowering the program was for them and they were very proud to have such a strong and committed team. “We are not event coordinators,” Sanchez jokingly said, “We are just students, so it would not have been possible without our hard-working team.”

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(Thakur and Sanchez at Sacramento State; February 2017)

If you would like to know more about the opportunities the Society of Women Engineers offers or more information about their Women’s Shadow Day event, they can be reached via email at: swe.sacstate@gmail.com.

Written by: Houa Vang, Leadership Initiative Program Assistant

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