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University of Arizona SWE members at the society's 2019 conference.

Student Clubs Work to Ensure All Voices Are Heard

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Student Clubs Work to Ensure All Voices Are Heard

Feb. 15, 2021
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Organizations geared toward underrepresented populations become home away from home for many engineering students.

Society of Women Engineers Lightens the Load

Two smiling women holding up cardboard cutouts of the letters "S W E"
Rebecca Shanks, SWE social chair, and Cecilia Stoesser, SWE president.

Many members of the UA section of the Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, attended Shadow a SWEster in high school, where local students spend a day on campus, attending classes and getting a taste of college life. From there, many high schoolers go on to join the club in college, excited by the opportunity to hear from industry speakers about work-life balance and careers, and from society members about professional development and support systems.

When she started college, Cecilia Stoesser, club president and engineering management senior, was taking algebra, while some of her friends were in vector calculus. She felt behind and unsure of herself until a senior SWE member, who also started out in algebra, assured Stoesser that the experience was not unusual, just different.

“That was what struck gold for me: ‘You’re on a different path,’” Stoesser said. “Hearing that was just the biggest weight off my shoulders. Now I give that same advice to others a lot: Don’t compare yourself to others, and find your support group. And SWE has been that support group for me.”

The organization has moved its high school recruitment and industry networking night online for the time being. The November 2020 national SWE conference also went virtual, so the entire club was able to attend.

For Madison Sitkiewicz, a materials science and engineering junior, the conference has netted two internships with Raytheon Technologies.

“If it weren’t for SWE, I wouldn’t have my dream internship that’s turning into another dream internship,” she said.

Phi Sigma Rho Takes Inclusion to the Next Level

Three smiling women hold a blackboard with the words "Phi Sigma Rho"
Taliah Gorman, Grace Halferty and Celeste Williams

Phi Sigma Rho is a social and philanthropic sorority for women in engineering and technology fields.

“There’s a perception that if you’re feminine, you’re not serious about academics,” said 2020 group president Melissa Requist, a senior double majoring in biomedical engineering and flute performance. “I think you can see that a lot in stereotypes, broadly, of all sororities, but especially in more technical fields. When really, the way that you express your gender has no bearing on your ability to be a good engineer or be good at any other profession.”

When Requist became president in January 2020, she created a diversity action plan to address racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, LGBTQ+ and academic inclusivity.

“A lot of people want to help but don’t know where to start,” said the group’s director of diversity and inclusion, Valeria Regalado, a computer science sophomore. “I’ve been that starting place, providing resources for people. Whether they want to talk about politics or just being a woman of color or being a woman in STEM, I’m there to listen and help as much as I can.”

During the pandemic, the sorority has held regular meetings focused on fellowship and mental health and put on virtual events, including a 5K fundraiser and a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona to donate 200 boxes of cookies to first responders.

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Becomes 'Familia'

A group of students stands on the front steps of Old Main, wearing face masks and holding up a blue banner that reads "Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers."
The executive board of the UA Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

The UA chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, or SHPE, extends its support throughout the community and fosters leadership growth among its members. The two go hand in hand.

“When I first joined, it was not only the sense of community and the people that made me want to keep coming, but SHPE’s vision for its members – what we call the familia,” said Nayleth Ramirez, a senior studying systems engineering. “I realized this club was perfect for me, because I can learn and become a better citizen of the community and the world, while also gaining these skills that are so critical for both academic and future career success.”

In response to COVID-19, club members have shifted to virtual events and strengthened sponsor recruitment to support shareable academic resources and relief scholarships. Ramirez is vice president for the club’s Advancement of Latinx in Engineering event, a series of themed workshops that promote STEM in high schools throughout the Southwest. The online spring 2021 event will feature a variety of companies that need engineers.

“My goal is to inspire at least one person out of the 200 or so high school students to come to engineering and join SHPE UA,” she said.

Perhaps most importantly, the club is a place where members, many of whom are first-generation college students, join forces with others from similar backgrounds.

“Knowing others share that same feeling of wanting to make their family proud while having all this pressure on their shoulders is really reassuring,” said club president Fabian Medina, a PhD student in mechanical engineering.

National Society of Black Engineers Puts Outreach First

A group of seven black students in formal clothing smile for a photo. The woman in the center holds a plaque.
Members of NSBE are showing Black youth that STEM success is well within their reach

The National Society of Black Engineers, or NSBE, aims to increase the number of Black and other minority engineers working in industry and attending graduate school.

“Before NSBE, I’d only met a handful of Black engineers, but when I joined, we had engineers from different companies come speak to us, and they were mainly Black,” said club president Kodjo Seddo, a senior studying systems and industrial engineering. “That kind of pushed me to do better.” 

Through outreach in local middle and high schools, NSBE is paying forward that sense of belonging.

As minorities in STEM, we have a responsibility to the next generation to be the representation we wish we’d had.”

“As minorities in STEM, we have a responsibility to the next generation to be the representation we wish we’d had,” said chemical engineering sophomore Neb Seged. “Whether we go into industry or academia, our biggest influence will be on young Black kids looking up to us and thinking, ‘I can do that same exact thing.’”

NSBE members agreed that even if they understand they can do whatever they set their minds to, without role models it can feel like navigating uncharted waters. But that’s one more reason to forge ahead: In a world with so much to fix, engineering offers a way to make lasting change.

“I feel like, next to doctors, we as engineers help people the most, because our impact is felt from the food we process to the systems and circuits we all use every day,” Seged said. “We are always looking for ways to make the world better.”