The SWE regional conference executive team

"SWEet Home Chicago"

Regional conference a huge success

When current seniors in McCormick’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) attended their first regional conference during their freshman year, they knew that they wanted to see Northwestern host the conference by the time they were seniors. “All of the upperclassmen thought we were crazy, but from that moment on we knew it was something we wanted to achieve,” says Kelly Migliazzo (manufacturing and design engineering ’07), cochair of the conference. Three years and hundreds of hours of planning later, SWE members are celebrating the success of the biggest conference in regional history.

McCormick’s section of SWE played host to more than 635 women engineers from 39 schools and 62 companies as part of the 2007 Region H Conference in January, giving participants a taste of their theme, “SWEet Home Chicago.” In addition to events in downtown Chicago, the group hosted information sessions and a career fair at the Norris University Center on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Students secured presenters from a wide variety of industries, representing the diverse career paths available to today’s engineering graduates. Attendees learned about everything from nanotechnology to salary negotiations from more than 60 speakers, including McCormick students and faculty.

Participation in the conference was highly subsidized — student participants paid only $25 for the conference and lodging — thanks to the successful fundraising of McCormick’s SWE section. The group raised more than $190,000 from corporate sponsors — the most ever for Region H. Platinum-level sponsors for the event, who donated $10,000 or more, were Caterpillar, Ford Motor Company, ITW, Honeywell, Pepsico, Littelfuse, and McCormick.

Leading the fundraising effort was Jessica Donato (biomedical engineering ’08). Her team contacted companies who had sponsored previous SWE conferences or McCormick events and worked with the McCormick Office of Corporate Relations to solicit donations from new contacts. “We e-mailed over 200 companies and spent a lot of time following up with each one,” Donato says. “The experience really opened my eyes to the workings of the corporate world. I had to be very realistic about our ability to raise money because the plans that we made were dependent on meeting our fundraising goals.”

The conference featured an opening reception and closing banquet in downtown Chicago with keynote speeches from Barb Samardzich, vice president of powertrain product development for the Ford Motor Company, and Vicki E. Panhuise, vice president of commercial and military helicopters for Honeywell Aero­space. The conference also included a career fair with more than 50 companies for students seeking employment.

While the entire SWE section at McCormick worked to put on the event, a group of 13 students formed the executive team. These students tied their conference planning into a classroom experience with Mark Werwath, adjunct professor of industrial engineering and management sciences, addressing strategies for negotiation, risk management, and project management along the way.

“Professor Werwath volunteered his time to help us prepare for this conference from a project management point of view,” says Migliazzo. “We learned statistical skills to plan our logistics and to prepare for ‘what if’ scenarios. He helped us establish a project plan to keep to key dates and timelines, as well as offered an outside point of view from someone who had never attended a SWE conference.”

Their planning paid off with one of the most successful conferences in Region H history — in terms of attendance, fundraising, and participant response, it was a hit. Both the executive director and president of SWE were in attendance, as were many McCormick administrators.

“The Region H conference was a huge success,” says Betty Shanahan, executive director of SWE. “Everyone who attended the conference had an outstanding experience, thanks to the great planning, creativity, and hospitality of the SWE section at Northwestern.”

For the graduating seniors who wanted to host the conference for four years, the success of the event will remain a “sweet” memory. “Planning this conference has been a very rewarding experience,” says conference cochair Jessica Schein (applied mathematics ’07). “It’s a special event, and I’m proud to attach my school’s name to this conference.”

—Kyle Delaney