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GradSWE and WISER Working for Gender Parity in STEM

During the latest One McCormick seminar, the organizations’ leaders described their respective groups

WISER's Rebecca Harmon, left, and GradSWE's Julia Downing spoke as part of the One McCormick lecture series.WISER's Rebecca Harmon, left, and GradSWE's Julia Downing spoke as part of the One McCormick lecture series.

The graduate student faction of Northwestern’s Society of Women Engineers chapter (GradSWE) and the Women in Science and Research (WISER) have similar goals. They both have a vision for gender parity in STEM and both work to serve anybody who needs support.

So, it makes sense for the two independent groups to collaborate, which they detailed during a lunchtime event on November 11 as part of the One McCormick lecture series at Northwestern Engineering. Through pooled efforts, such as social events and shared programming, the organizations reach a greater portion of their intended audience by serving and supporting the community of graduate women in STEM at the University.

Julio M. Ottino

“STEM fields are incredibly diverse, and what we aim to do specifically is cater to graduate students in those populations,” GradSWE president Julia Downing said. “There isn’t exactly an abundance of resources or a script to follow as a graduate woman in STEM. We recognize that specific need.”

The Northwestern GradSWE chapter is focused on providing networking events, mentorship and outreach opportunities, and career development which cater to graduate women in engineering and science. The organization moves toward its goals through professional development, outreach and mentorship, and community building.

WISER, meanwhile, is a graduate student organization that seeks to build community among graduate women in broader STEM fields. The group promotes and advances women’s leadership in STEM and sponsors workshops and seminars focused on professional skills development for early career women in the sciences.

When he introduced Downing and WISER president Rebecca Harmon, Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering, reiterated the importance of the One McCormick series. Northwestern Engineering, and the University as a whole, are a complex network and there are tasks that need to be solved.

The ideas, Ottino said, should cut across all parts of the University because there is “always some good practice to extract from somewhere.”

“The idea of solving problems is you have to be aware of context,” Ottino said. “What we want to do with the presentations is showcase parts of the network and inform the other parts of the network what’s going on.”

Harmon, a PhD candidate in the Broadbelt Research Lab studying chemical and biological engineering, is proud of how WISER has supported students, especially though a resource navigation program that started two years ago. Northwestern offers numerous resources for students ranging from Title IX policy to options for anyone who has experienced or witnessed discrimination, and the program helps student choose the best one for support.

“You can kind of feel like you’re inundated with information at times,” Harmon said. “And especially when you or someone you know might be vulnerable, having someone to help you through that and point you in the right direction has been a pretty neat thing to offer.”

Downing, a PhD candidate in the Hersam Research Group studying materials science, said her group’s interactions with companies and global innovators helps members prepare for their careers and how to network. Meanwhile, GradSWE’s mentorship and outreach has grown since she joined.

“What we care about is improving parity in the pipeline,” Downing said. “That goes all the way back to girls in middle and elementary school who have never heard of engineering.”

The One McCormick lecture series provides faculty and students with a venue to present their efforts each week in an effort to build community and enhance connectivity amongst the dynamic network at Northwestern Engineering. Initially, the series is focusing on the student experience, including diversity, health and wellness, and student success. 

So far, the series has included presentations from:

The next event is Wednesday, November 18, and will feature the Northwestern chapter of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE). Registration is required to attend.