College of Engineering News Room
USF SWE leads the way for future women engineers
By Brad Stager
When Women’s History month comes around each March, the growing presence of women in STEM fields is a frequent topic of discussion.
The number of women working in engineering has more than doubled over the last 50-plus years, from 7 percent of engineers in 1970 to 14.9 percent in 202, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Support from organizations like the Society of Women Engineers that engage in ongoing efforts throughout the year is critical to achieving greater representation of women in the field.
The University of South Florida chapter of SWE provides a means for women of the College of Engineering to connect with the profession and achieve recognition for their contributions early in their careers.
Cristal Wu is majoring in civil engineering and is a member of USF’s SWE chapter, serving as its Engineering Expo chair. She says the organization focuses on the future success of its members and that all are welcome.
“SWE’s mission is to guide women in achieving their full potential in their careers as engineers. We also encourage men to join our organization and become allies to the Society of Women Engineers.”
Wu adds that the USF chapter of SWE offers a variety of experiences at its bi-weekly meetings and other activities for its members to enjoy and benefit from.
“Our events range from fun socials to professional development events,” Wu adds that SWE is also an excellent way to learn about other engineering fields, develop multidisciplinary skills and have opportunities to consider STEM options beyond what they already know.
Besides furthering their education, the USF SWE chapter members are also engaged in developing STEM knowledge among younger students in the Tampa Bay area.
“Our two main projects now are the USF Engineering EXPO and our Python Project,” said Wu. “The USF Engineering EXPO is a two-day event where K-12 students can come and interact with engineering experiments. The Python Project aims to expose programming to surrounding schools.”
One characteristic of SWE is that its professional membership includes all engineering disciplines, which is the case for the USF student chapter, according to Wu.
“We enjoy collaborating with other engineering student organizations on campus. It is always so nice to speak to student leaders and hear what exciting news they have.” Wu adds that the chapter’s expo activities and displays highlight projects from across the engineering spectrum.
This collaborative perspective becomes important because as more women work in engineering jobs, significant disparities still exist within particular disciplines, such as mechanical or electrical engineering, where women make up only about 8 percent of the workforce in each field. In contrast, women are 27.9 percent of those employed as chemical engineers and 25 percent of industrial engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Besides having a variety of educational and professional development events for members to participate in, SWE is also a source of real-world education through internships employers make available to attract engineering talent among women students.
While there are plenty of local activities, USF SWE members can engage globally via virtual events facilitated by the national organization, with topics ranging from engineering-related technical presentations to discussions on negotiating a pay raise.
The SWE digital footprint also includes its series of podcasts, such as Diverse, which explores issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in engineering. SWE podcasts are available via Google and Apple podcasts, SoundCloud and Spotify. You can also find them posted on SWE’s blog, All Together.
According to Wu, involvement in the local chapter of SWE has enhanced her education experience at USF.
“I gain a lot by socializing with like-minded people, and I like that I get to teach people what I know. In addition, I have improved my communication and leadership skills.”
You can learn more about USF’s SWE chapter by visiting its website at usf.swe.org and annotate your calendar for International Women in Engineering Day, to honor women in the engineering field, on June 23.