Carnegie Mellon University
November 23, 2020

SWEet Success: Bridging The Gender Gap In STEM

By E. Forney

E. Forney
  • College of Engineering

The Society for Women Engineers (SWE) has a thriving and active chapter at Carnegie Mellon University. With 240 members it is one of the larger student organizations at CMU.

"SWE's whole mission is just to support women in STEM, whether that be engineering, math or science," said Alyssa Brown, who is a senior in mechanical and biomedical engineering and the president of CMU's chapter. The organization is open to everyone, not just those who identify as women.

SWE is known for working with CMU administrators to organize the Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC), a career fair that brings hundreds of companies to campus to interview thousands of students for internship and job openings. Although this year necessitated a virtual career fair, participants were not deterred. Almost 170 companies attended.

Thanks in large part to the hard work of Tanvi Bhargava, a junior in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), and Meghana Keeta, a sophomore in ECE, the event drew nearly 3,000 virtual attendees daily during the conference, which was hosted on CareerEco, a platform for large-scale career fairs.

Bhargave and Keeta serve the TOC directors and corporate relations co-chairs for CMU SWE. While this year's event didn't involve physical coordination such as providing tables and meeting rooms, there was plenty to do, such as providing webinars and tutorials on how to use the platform.

"In the end it was pretty successful," Keeta said. "We had really high attendance."

While the TOC is its marquee event, the organization has multiple events monthly, which offer many ways to engage. The committees cover corporate relations, professional development, mentorship, outreach, publicity, graduate studies and social events.

"The opportunities are also amazing," Keeta added. "There are so many different ways to get involved and to even go beyond SWE and become a better engineer and person."

As part of outreach, SWE hosts Pittsburgh girls interested in STEM: a high school day in the fall and a middle school day in the spring. These field trips usually involve hands-on learning activities, tours of labs, and discussions with college students and professors. Students also provide tutoring for K-12 students, which is happening virtually this year.

Dilara Ozdoganlar, a junior in materials science and biomedical engineering, is SWE's vice president. She said that being able to connect digitally has been a boon for bringing in speakers for professional development and networking events.

"We could reach out to any speaker from across the country and they could just join in on a Zoom call and talk to us, which I think is really cool. There's no barrier of travel," she said.

The leaders of the organization agreed that using digital tools such as teleconferencing and recording meetings would likely continue to do even after the pandemic wanes.

The CMU chapter of SWE has not gone unnoticed by their national organization. The chapter has received 25 awards nationally and locally for its efforts, including Mission Gold Awards, which recognize groups that embody the organization's core values and demonstrate continuous improvement and growth as they work to achieve SWE strategic goals.

"They really exemplify that we are living the whole mission of the national organization," Brown said.

Being a part of SWE has been a rewarding experience, she added.

"It's been really an empowering reminder of why I'm going through such a rigorous program in undergrad. It's definitely been, honestly, the highlight of my time at CMU, and definitely, my experience in SWE is something that I will take with me forever."

Bhargava agreed that the organization, and its sense of community, has been a highlight or her.

"It was just refreshing to see smart people — really smart women in my field — and being able to talk to them and learn from them in my first year here," she said.