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Women engineers receive award

Becky Hogan | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Notre Dame Collegiate Section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE-ND) has a clear goal – to reverse the trend of women being exceedingly underrepresented in the engineering profession – and a recent prestigious national award is proof that its hard work toward that goal has paid off.

SWE-ND recently received the Outstanding Collegiate Section Award for its work in encouraging young women to pursue professions in the field of engineering.

The award honors Notre Dame’s Society of Women Engineers as the best section of its size in the country. More than 100 sections were present from Oct. 10 to 14 at the National Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

Senior Katie Murphy, president of SWE-ND, wrote a report detailing the strides the club has made in recent years to recruit female engineering majors.

While the national average of female engineering majors hovers around 19 percent, Notre Dame’s current average nears 24 percent.

The report emphasized the various activities and events that the club has held to support current students within the College of Engineering and to encourage young girls to begin thinking about pursuing an engineering career. Murphy and the core committee members of SWE-ND submitted this winning report at the National Conference.

“It was an annual report based on everything that we have done in the past year,” she said.

The club also plans to submit a new and improved report summarizing its accomplishments for the current academic year to ensure that it stays competitive in next year’s contest.

“We plan to follow the guidelines of the national organization more closely,” Murphy said.

The club will receive a cash reward of an unknown amount, which Murphy said will be applied toward future SWE-ND events.

Although SWE-ND has entered the National Conference in recent years, this is the first time the organization has been recognized for its efforts.

The Society of Women Engineers has 17,000 members nationally, and approximately 10,000 of those members are students, said Cathy Pieronek, director of Women’s Programs in the College of Engineering and faculty advisor of SWE-ND. The remaining members are professionals.

Murphy said the club’s recent increase in membership is evidence of its success as a major student group on campus.

“Five years ago, there were only 10 members [in the SWE-ND] who met a few times a year, and now there are 130 girls in our organization,” Murphy said. “Our goal is to recruit women and keep them in engineering.”

SWE-ND has experienced major growth over the past five years and, according to the 19-page report submitted by Murphy, “has become the most active and prominent engineering organization on campus.”

In 2005, the Notre Dame Club Coordination Council awarded SWE-ND the “Overall Program of the Year Award.”

“SWE does a great job of covering the social side and the academic side of life as an engineer,” said senior Ann Verwilst, club treasurer.

The Society of Women Engineers is busy year-round planning events and activities for female engineering students. Some of these events include Halloween and Christmas parties and visitation days for prospective female students. The club also invites professional engineers to speak to undergraduate engineering students and runs meetings to help students find internships.

The group involves itself in the community as well. SWE participates in service work by holding toiletry drives for local women’s shelters.

Murphy explained that building a support system for female students interested in engineering is essential to the organization’s mission.

“The workload [for engineering majors] is so hard all of the time, so our group provides a support system for girls to meet in a more relaxed setting,” Murphy said.

Verwilst said SWE-ND has helped her to get to know other engineering students.

“For me, SWE has been really helpful in getting advice from older girls about classes and internships. … It has also helped me to form great friendships,” she said.

After receiving this prestigious honor, Murphy hopes that this award will encourage more female students to consider engineering, knowing that Notre Dame has a unique support network for women in that college.