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In-Person, Get Outside 2021 Delivers Valuable Career Advice

Event organized by Northwestern GradSWE offered talks by eight female STEM leaders

A Get Outside attendee listens intently to one of the speakers.Photography by Matthew Allen
Amy Lee Segami
Speaker Amy Lee Segami gestures during her lecture "The Art and Science of Engineering."Photography by Matthew Allen
Attendees applaud after the talk delivered by Alexandra Prokuda.Photography by Matthew Allen
Linda Brennan
Linda Brennan (IEMS PhD '94) delivers her address "Leadership Without Authority."Photography by Matthew Allen
Get Outside
Get Outside drew 40 graduate students, who heard valuable career advice.Photography by Matthew Allen
Get Outside banner
Held for the first time, organizers are planning on making Get Outside an annual event.Photography by Matthew Allen

Just a few feet from Lake Michigan on the East Lawn of the Norris Student Center, 40 graduate students at Get Outside 2021 were covered in sunshine. With socially distanced attendees sitting on blankets and wearing masks, eight speakers addressed the audience during the professional development conference.

“It was exciting. There's a certain energy at in-person events that is hard to emulate over Zoom,” said Hannah Emnett, one of the event’s organizers and a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering. “Everyone was really energized and excited to interact.” 

Julio M. Ottino

Held for the first time on Saturday, May 22, Get Outside 2021 offered Northwestern University STEM graduate students an opportunity to connect with current and aspiring STEM leaders. Sponsored by Northwestern Engineering and The Graduate School (TGS) at Northwestern, the one-day conference was staged by the graduate student faction of Northwestern’s Society of Women Engineers chapter (GradSWE).

GradSWE, which is planning on making Get Outside an annual event, is focused on providing networking events, mentorship and outreach opportunities, and career development to graduate women in engineering and science.

This gathering did exactly that. Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering, highlighted the group’s importance to the Northwestern Engineering community both now and in the future.

“I see the University as a network of nodes and connections, and as a result of this network, we produce two things: we produce people, and we produce ideas,” Ottino said in a video address. “Some of these nodes could be groups, and groups like SWE are super important especially now – in this last year-plus – that we have been socially disconnected. It’s so important that people have a group to belong to.”

Along with Emnett (’22), the other organizers were Ola Kalinowska (‘22, mechanical engineering), Allison Pinosky (‘24, mechanical engineering), Milli Schlafly (‘23, mechanical engineering), Alanna Felts (‘22, chemistry), Sanjana Subramaniam (‘24, mechanical engineering), and Julia Downing (‘22, materials science and engineering).

After 14 months apart, the event reconnected people socially.

Topics included handling high-pressure moments, what to look for in a job, life lessons in leaving academia, discovering the right career path and the correct mentors, how to speak up in the midst of a male-controlled field, becoming a leader, and mixing art and science in engineering.

The eight speakers were:

  • Linda Brennan (IEMS PhD ’94), Focal Point Coaching
  • Maureen Bricker, Honeywell
  • Serena Klos, Mattersight Corporation
  • Shyama Majumdar, Polsky Center at the University of Chicago
  • Melanie Patterson, AbbVie
  • Alexandra Prokuda, Chicago Council on Science and Technology
  • Amy Lee Segami, Segami Studios & Consulting
  • Debbie Vyskocil, Optimal Edge Performance

During her keynote talk “Leadership Without Authority,” Brennan recited leadership lessons she’s learned during her lengthy and successful career. A business coach devoted to working with women in male-dominated industries who’s held management and engineering positions at Philip Morris, IBM, the Quaker Oats Company, and the Coca-Cola Company, Brennan talked about the power that comes with authority, leadership as influence, the need for relationships, and the foundation of trust. She also made it clear that leadership is possible without having authority — and might even be preferable. 

“You can lead even when you’re not in charge,” Brennan said. “There are things you can do now to maximize your impact as a leader. Start with being trustworthy, be intentional about the connections that you make with other people, become well-informed if you’re not already, choose your attitude, concentrate on being fully present, master non-verbal communication, don’t yell, and learn from others’ mistakes.”

The value of leadership was just one of the takeaways of the event. Not only did the attendees hear from the eight STEM leaders, but they had the chance to move outside of their academic comfort zones while getting some fresh air.

“We had an inspirational group of speakers and an engaged audience,” Kalinowska said. “Just being outside on Northwestern's lakefront with friends and colleagues for the first time this year made for a great event. It was rewarding to see the conference come together.”