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Society of Women Engineers Provides Support, Resources

January 29, 2016
The Society of Women Engineers serves as a support network.
The Society of Women Engineers serves as a support network.

Typically, when Ann Gibbons walks into one of her engineering courses at the University of Wyoming, she’s one of only a few females in the class.

Currently, females account for 18 percent of enrollment in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. That puts UW among the national averages, with statistics putting female enrollment at undergraduate and graduate levels between 18 and 24 percent in colleges across the country.

But that’s where the UW chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) can have an effect. According to the organization, the purpose of SWE is to encourage women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life and demonstrate the value of diversity. And statistics do show an increase in females in engineering, improving from just 15 percent female enrollment in the CEAS in 2006.

Gibbons, who serves as the president of University of Wyoming chapter of SWE, wants to improve the experience of those who pursue an education in the engineering fields at UW.

“When you walk into a class and there are a few females, it’s nice to know that there is a network for them in the college. It’s about support and helping, and doing the best we can to get them into the workforce,” she says.

Katie Hopfensperger has spent three years as a member, and now serves as the vice president of SWE at UW.

“It’s all about empowering women in the field because we’re underrepresented. It’s all about making the college and classroom experience cohesive between men and women. We don’t want it to be divided,” she says. “There’s a support system for us in industry to give us confidence.”

The organizations is a valuable resource for engineering females at UW who might feel out of place. The SWE chapter in Laramie hosts resume and interviewing workshops, industry panels and other outreach events.

“Hopefully we can show girls what it’s like to work in a professional career, and give them an idea of what it will be like beyond school,” Gibbons says.  

Attendances and membership have varied over the last few years, but Gibbons feels confident about recent engagement efforts. Estimates of regular membership put the numbers at about 40, but Gibbons points to the first meeting of the 2015-16 academic year, when 60 people attended.

“It’s been a struggle and we’ve had some ups and downs,” Gibbons says. “This is the year we’re trying to gain a foothold so we’re trying really hard to get the members to come together so we can build up. We felt good about that first meeting. We’re really happy we had people interested in it.”

Both Gibbons and Hopfensperger became SWE members at the urging of older students who were involved. It’s that kind of engagement that will ensure the organization remain effective at UW. SWE members will be involved in Engineers Week Girls Day in February, along with outreach events like working with Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Laramie. But membership can also be boosted by the members reaching out to those who might not even know SWE exists.

“If you don’t know the person, they won’t just take your word for it to join,” Hopfensperger says. “People will talk to organizations, but won’t just join them. The key is to be friendly to them, and once you have that trust, tell them about your involvement and how proud you are of the work we’re doing. And really, in the worst-case scenario, there’s free pizza at every meeting.”

Gibbons and Hopfensperger are passionate about SWE, and will continue to espouse the benefits of joining up. Events can help put the organization in the spotlight, including a student-faculty dinner scheduled for April, at which CEAS Dean Michael Pishko will speak.

“Hopefully the connections make members realize they’ll have a network that can help them throughout their college career,” Gibbons says. “The more events we have, the more interest we can spur. I hope next year we will see the benefits of this year’s work.”

To find out more about SWE and membership, contact the chapter’s officers below.

President Ann Gibbons

Vice President Katie Hopfensperger

Secretary Katie Ponta

Treasurer Hannah Miller

Faculty Advisor Dr. Eva Ferre-Pikal

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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