Society of Women Engineers Building and Bonding at Mount Union

April 04, 2016

Society of Women Engineers Mount UnionBY: Kristin Werstler

It’s no secret that women are a minority in the fields of mathematics, science and engineering. Dr. Shehla Arif, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Mount Union, and her students are combating this by forming a Proposed Collegiate Section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Mount Union.

The mission of the organization is to encourage and retain women students in the Engineering Department.

“Women in Engineering education and profession remain a minority even six decades after the creation of the national Society of Women Engineers,” explains Arif. “Therefore, SWE’s mission to ‘Stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life and demonstrate the value of diversity.’ remains relevant today.”

The organization will build a support structure for female students by organizing a speaker series, open study sessions and various recreational events. Most recently, Dr. Tanya Schlusser, a data engineer and business statistics consultant, spoke to a group of female students. She spoke about her career path, the challenges she encountered and success strategies for women engineers.

"The event was hosted by Dr. Margot Kelman at the Haupt House," Arif said. "She extended a warm welcome to our women engineering students by organizing a cordial event. The students had an opportunity to informally converse with the guest speaker as well as with Dr. Kelman during dinner. The formal talk occurred around the fireplace, which was a perfect spot for sharing common experiences and strategies. After the talk, the students had a home-away-from-home moment with Dr. Kelman’s dog, Jasmine." 

“Relentless optimism, positivity, and confidence go a long way in shaping a person's career, regardless of gender,” states Schlusser. “For women, awareness of our own internal biases, and those of others, can inform small changes we make in the way we present ourselves — both to ourselves and to the world. New research is showing how much control we actually have over our own minds: even small changes in posture can lead to big differences in outcome.”

“I really enjoyed listening to Dr. Tanya Schlusser speak about being a woman in Engineering,” said Megan Loetz ’18, mechanical engineering major. “Her advice and knowledge was very helpful to all of us.  Her lecture was also very inspiring.  She told us to not become discouraged in our profession and it is worth it..”

During the event, the women bonded over dinner, watched a TED talk and participated in activities that not only showed the students the power of their mind, but also helped bond them together.

“One of the benefits of schools like Mount Union is its close-knit community. It may be that this will be the most women engineers concentrated together in one place in a SWE member's career,” Schlusser explains. “The closer we grow together here, the stronger our base will be when we encounter new situations in our careers. The goal is that the ties made in SWE will remain for a lifetime, and that our collective wisdom will help everyone succeed.”

As the organization grows, Arif and her students plan on attaining the status of a Collegiate Section of the Society of Women Engineers. Becoming a collegiate section will help connect the students with a global community of over 30,000 women engineers.

“As a senior in SWE, this program has allowed me to share my experiences from my internships with the underclassmen,” said Megan Klinect ’16, a mechanical engineering major. “I can help answer questions about what it is like being the only female engineer at a company, how to go about finding jobs and what to expect." 

“When you doubt your abilities, examine the doubt.” Arif tells her students. “There is nothing ‘natural’ about one set of people characterized by gender, race, orientation, or any other marker, to be ‘better’ than others. Work hard, focus on learning and enjoy the process. Persist and dream big. Only the sky is the limit!”

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