Skip to: Main Content Search Navigation Secondary Navigation

OHIO’s Society of Women Engineers mentor program grows membership, challenges status quo

Holly Craddock | Feb 22, 2016
SWE mentor program
Photo by Ashley Stottlemyer

OHIO’s Society of Women Engineers mentor program grows membership, challenges status quo

Holly Craddock | Feb 22, 2016

Photo by Ashley Stottlemyer

When electrical engineering senior Natasha Norris was an undecided freshman at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology in fall 2012, finding ways to connect with fellow women students was a priority.

She did that with about 15 other women in the OHIO chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a student-run organization that provides career guidance and personal support to women, men and minorities in science, engineering, math and technology majors.

But with lack of visibility on campus due to low organization recruitment and fundraising numbers, Norris knew SWE wasn’t reaching its full potential – so she and other motivated members took action.

“We started doing more fundraising and recruiting, and presenting on the things you can do in engineering,” Norris said. “We started getting girls excited to be in engineering.”

Membership has grown steadily every year since. The org touts more than 70 women members now, this year having welcomed a record number of freshmen – which Norris attributes to the group’s newly implemented mentor/mentee program.

Norris meets weekly with her mentees – or “SWEsters” – electrical engineering freshmen Kayzsa McDaniel and Gabby Miller, to catch up and work through any school-related or personal challenges.

Miller joined SWE as an undecided engineering major to get to know more women engineers and was immediately inspired by the older members’ achievements.

“I don’t relate with some of the guys,” Miller said. “But in this club, you’re really encouraged to see all the girls who are very successful with all these internships and co-ops, and it really helps you push forward and do better in classes.”

Norris was able to relate easily relate to Miller and helped her explore her options. Miller chose to pursue electrical engineering, and Norris admitted she might have had a slight bias.

“I ended up in electrical, but any major that I wanted to do, she was really supportive,” Miller said. “She gave me a tour of the facilities here, and I really liked that.”

McDaniel said receiving advice, support and homework help from someone who had been in her place has been especially valuable.

“It’s nice to have someone to go to who has done everything you’re doing before for advice and tips,” she said. “And I know I saved well over $100 borrowing her textbooks.”

SWE provides career and networking opportunities through regional and national conferences, where Norris recently received an offer to intern with Boeing this summer (she accepted). However, she emphasized that internship offers aren’t the only benefit of attending conferences.

“Big companies heavily recruit at SWE events because they want diversity,” she said. “But even more importantly, even if you don’t get an internship at the conference, you’re less nervous to go talk to the employers.”

By providing career opportunities and fostering relationships, SWE hopes its mentorship program will build leadership skills in its members and encourage younger engineers to keep pursuing their studies. Ultimately, Norris, McDaniel and Miller hope to see that women working in engineering and technology becomes more of an accepted societal norm.

“When I say I’m in engineering, people say, ‘Wow, congratulations!’” Miller said. “They’re surprised that a woman is in engineering, but if a guy said that, it would be normal. This group wants to make it more acceptable that a woman can be in this field and be successful.”

Norris wants SWE to continue its legacy of giving women and minority engineers and technologists a voice and presence at OHIO and the Russ College, where for fall 2015 women accounted for 16.1 percent of undergraduate engineering and technology students. This is compared to a national average of 20.6 percent in fall 2014, according to the American Society of Engineering Education.

“If there is a dominant society of women engineers here, then we have a voice, and it will be more natural for us to be present here,” Norris said. “It provides a support system for those who are fighting for women in engineering to become the norm.”