Changing the minority perspective

Integrity, inclusive environment, mutual support, professional excellence and trust. These are the five core values that drive the Society of Women Engineers, an international organization with over 27,000 members, 55 percent of which are students.

Since it was founded in 1950, SWE has given women engineers a unique place and voice within the engineering industry.

The first SWE National Conference in 1951 had 112 attendees and the 2013 National Conference had over 7,000 attendees. The College of Engineering at the University is home to 16 top-ranked engineering programs, and in the fall of 2013, over 7,000 students were pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but the percent of those students who were female hovered around 20 percent. 

Women make up less than a quarter of the engineering workforce. Currently, at the University and nationally, women are a minority in engineering.

SWE-UIUC has over 400 members and is proud to be one of the largest engineering organizations on campus. SWE is an inclusive organization that welcomes a diverse group of individuals to its community. It has over 200 events each year in order “to be key to the success of women in engineering and technology.”

Through our community service, we give back to the local community while strengthening the bonds between our members. Our outreach events reach girls and boys K-12 and help us give students the opportunity to see how engineers can change the world and that anybody can be an engineer.

Members of SWE develop their professional and academic skills through workshops with corporate sponsors, engineering services and other societies. In addition, membership enrichment and social events develop a tight knit community within the large college.

Creating an inclusive environment is one of our main goals as a SWE section. SWE is a supportive community for anyone in engineering as well as a great resource for women in a male dominated field. Our members are highly involved in many other organizations on campus as well, such as Engineers Without Borders, Illini 4000, Greek life and varsity sports.

SWE provides fundamental building blocks for students of all races and genders to succeed in engineering.

There are many other organizations on campus similar to SWE that are meant to bridge minority gaps, not reinforce the divide. Organizations like Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women in Business and many more work toward providing a community for all those who are underrepresented in their field.

Nick Rivera, senior in Engineering, says being in SHPE “provided [him] an opportunity to learn how to become a successful engineer, while still maintaining [his] cultural identity from people who had already done it.” He says that “the need for these organizations lies in the fact that we need to see ourselves in these roles,” whether this be academically or professionally.

Darren Miller, junior in Business and member of the Association for Information Systems, believes that “the goal of any organization should be the betterment of its members, no matter the size or demographic makeup.”

This is something every minority organization strives for.

Minority organizations are important because minority gaps do exist. The goal of these organizations is not to make minorities feel uncomfortable, but rather to strive to bridge these gaps and lessen them.

They create communities where students who share a common goal can feel like they are working to accomplish these goals. These organizations reach out to make a difference in the local community, student community and within the University as a whole.

Members from the Society of Women Engineers. They can be reached at [email protected]