UNO Society of Women Engineers Plans Fall Fun
A group of young female engineers at the University of New Orleans are creating a network that will help them advance in their chosen professions – and encourage other young women to join fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The University of New Orleans' Society of Women Engineers is a campus division of a national organization of professional female engineers. The group restarted after a long hiatus during the 2012-2013 academic year with the help of the UNO Student Government and leadership from faculty adviser Melody Verges, a mechanical engineering professor in the UNO College of Engineering.
Spring fun included a speed networking event, wherein UNO students, as well as students from Xavier and Tulane Universities, bounced through five-minute networking interviews – speed-dating style – with professional women engineers who work at large local organizations, including Keystone Engineering, Shell Oil Company, Valero Energy Corporation and All South Consulting Engineers.
Now, UNO SWE is ramping up both fun and opportunity – and welcoming new members for the 2013-2013 academic year. Men are welcome. In fact, said Borden, this year's treasurer Steve Bonilla helped to get the organization started, as a representative of UNO Student Government. New officers include: Vice President Rachel Coggins, a rising senior and mechanical engineering major, Treasurer Steve Bonilla, a mechanical engineering major who graduates in December and Secretary Myriam Bou-Mekhayel, a rising senior and civil engineering major who graduates in May.
The group holds its first meeting – a welcome-back meeting open to all STEM majors, both men and women – at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 28 on the third floor of the UNO Engineering Building. Those who attend will meet club officers, hear more about semester plans and enjoy some free pizza.
"I think the club is important because there are so few women in engineering," said Jessica Borden, incoming president. "I think it's important that we reach out to [interested female students] and let them know that we're here."
Fun and Learning in Store
Together with the Greater New Orleans Society of Engineers, UNO SWE is planning a series of events aimed at introducing young women to fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Borden said.
First on the list is a local scavenger hunt designed to help form bonds between professional engineers and UNO engineering students. The event is slated for Saturday, Sept. 14.
The following week, the Greater New Orleans Society of Women Engineers will join UNO SWE students on campus from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21 to help educate approximately 3,000 young girls ages 7 to 11 about topics of interest that could be pathways to STEM fields.
The five-hour STEM Extravaganza, sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Southeast Louisiana, includes fun hands-on experiments that will teach the girls to "make something with concrete and make lip gloss, just to let them know that all STEM programs are interesting."
Borden has also lined up three guest speakers: Jessica Watts, an engineer with CDM Smith who serves as president of Greater New Orleans, CDM Smith; Danielle Berthelot, an electrical engineer with Keystone Engineering, and Kimberly Tremble, a recent graduate of UNO who works for Cummings Engineering.
The speaker events are slated to be held mid-day the first Wednesday of each month, Sept. 4, Oct. 2, and Nov. 6. The events will include an 11:30 a.m. refreshment period and start at noon.
"It's not just a men's field," said Borden. "I want people to see what professionals do. We already know what students do in college. I want the students to know what professionals are working on, that way they have something to focus on when in college."
Bonds Inside and Outside the Classroom
Borden, who hopes to raise enough funds to bring interested members to the annual Women's Engineering Conference in Baltimore, Md. in late October, believes it's important for women to have female mentors in their fields.
"It's nice to have other women to talk to, not just about engineering but about life," said Borden, a rising senior who is working two jobs as she goes through college. It's nice to have this kind of society where women can come together," she said. "I want them to know that we have this kind of society and they can talk to us. We're here, we're human."
She has learned from professionals and friends about the challenges of being a working woman in a male-dominated field and believes that learning how to work effectively with male counterparts and professors is a challenge, but a surmountable one.
"I was intimidated by mechanical engineering, because that field is typically male-dominated, then I thought: I like machines, I like taking things apart and putting them together. If they can do it, I can too," said Borden, a rising senior and mechanical engineering major. "I think women when they look at these things they get intimidated because they look at the machines and think I can't do that, but it's really fun."
She wants other women to share the same experience.
"I want to keep encouraging women to enjoy engineering because I never thought I could do it," said Borden. "Looking back five years ago to math class – a calculus – and looking ahead of me, I thought it was impossible," she said. "It's not."