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Mentorship, Community at Center of Northwestern SWE

Emily Jenkins provided an overview of the initiatives of the Northwestern SWE chapter

Emily Jenkins explained how the chapter offers mentorship opportunities for students as early as before their first year on campus and is one of SWE’s strengths.

By creating a community and building a space for collaboration and networking, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) aims to empower women to fulfill their full potential as engineers and leaders.  

Northwestern Engineering’s One McCormick lecture series continued on October 14 with a presentation by Emily Jenkins (’21), a computer science major and HeForSWE director of the Northwestern chapter of SWE, who provided an overview of the initiatives of the 44-year-old Northwestern SWE chapter with over 300 members. The national organization has more than 40,000 members, including 300 collegiate member sections and 100 professional member sections. 

Julio M. Ottino

In his introduction to the virtual event with more than 100 attendees, Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering, called SWE “one of the points of pride for McCormick.” Ottino also stressed the importance of the Northwestern Engineering network staying connected, a goal of the One McCormick lecture series.

 “We want all ideas to be on the table,” Ottino said. “We will get lots of good ideas when the ideas emerge from all the diversity of the networks within McCormick.”

Women make up 35 percent of the Northwestern Engineering student body, twice the national average for an engineering school, Jenkins said. Still, the need for support is vital.

She explained how the chapter offers mentorship opportunities for students as early as before their first year on campus and is one of SWE’s strengths. Both formal and informal mentorships on topics ranging from class selection to finding a job have eased her own path. 

“People that I’ve met around me have definitely been very instrumental in guiding me and showing me the ropes,” Jenkins said. “That’s something I hope to pass down to younger students now that I am in my last year of study here.”

SWE also supports girls and women outside of the University. SWE holds a four-day summer camp for middle-school girls to introduce them to STEM. The Northwestern chapter also hosts Career Day for Girls. In past years, SWE welcomed as many as 300 middle-school and high-school girls from the Chicago area for fun engineering activities and competitions, inspirational keynote speakers, and lab tours.

SWE builds community among its members in a variety of ways, from pizza parties to professional development opportunities and access to career events with companies.

“You’re able to find that community no matter what you’re seeking,” Jenkins said. “There is definitely space for everybody to come in and find fulfillment in that way.”

Jenkins is director of HeForSWE, which aims to mobilize people of every gender identity to acknowledge their role in achieving equality. The initiative works to spread awareness of gender biases and inequality specifically within the field of engineering and was inspired by the United Nations’s HeForShe movement launched by then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.

Past events included panels and interactive workshops on issues surrounding gender biases, sexism in the workplace, and unconscious bias.

HeForSWE “was a result of looking at gender inequity statistics and really wanting to do something tangible about it,” said Jenkins, who is also pursuing a managerial analytics certificate from the Kellogg School of Management. “It’s so great that we have a community for women engineers on campus, but I think we really wanted to take people that were already invested and dive deeper into an issue.”

In an effort to build community and enhance connectivity amongst the dynamic network at Northwestern Engineering, the One McCormick lecture series provides faculty and students with a venue to present their efforts. Initially, the series will focus on the student experience, including diversity, health and wellness, and student success. The program kicked off October 7 with a presentation by Leah Payne (’22), a chemical engineering major and president of the Northwestern chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

The next event is Tuesday, October 20, and will feature the Northwestern chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Registration is required to attend.