Society of Women Engineers raises funds to expand outreach

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The first Portland State Society of Women Engineers meeting of the year at the Maseeh College Engineering Building on Oct. 8 welcomed many newly enrolled engineering students. Photo by Joseph Thiebes

The Portland State Society of Women Engineers (SWE, rhymes with “whee”) has raised more than 40 percent of its fundraising goal, which it will use to expand its outreach and support programs.

The funds will be used to foster professional mentorships for women engineering students, to facilitate outreach to encourage K–12 girls to pursue engineering, and to sponsor conference travel scholarships for members of the PSU section of the society. PSU SWE has raised more than $1,600 of its total goal of $3,775.

“We’re trying to create a support network of students and professionals,” said PSU SWE Fundraising Chair Becky Russo.

The Society of Women Engineers captured national attention last month when John Oliver encouraged viewers to contribute to the scholarship-granting organization on his popular satirical news program, Last Week Tonight.

Women have long been underrepresented in engineering. According to the PSU Office of Institutional Research and Planning, there were 325 women and 1,867 men undergraduates with declared majors in an engineering field at the end of last academic year. Graduate programs in engineering have slightly better representation at PSU, with 190 women and 500 men. Statistics for the current academic year are not yet available.

“What I get out of it most is mutual support,” said Katherine Flenniken, president of PSU SWE. “We succeed more when we’re supported. I think it’s more important than people may realize.”

Vice President of PSU SWE Moira Gion said, “What I enjoy most about SWE is being able to connect with other women in engineering and lifting each other up, while also developing leadership skills.”

SWE has built community among women in engineering disciplines for more than 60 years, providing scholarships and networking opportunities to support women students and professionals in the field. In 2014, SWE disbursed more than $700,000 in scholarships. Students from PSU will attend the upcoming Annual Conference for Women Engineers in Los Angeles.

PSU SWE hosts numerous events each month, including off-campus luncheons where women engineering professionals and students can meet and socialize. SWE will also have a booth at the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science open house, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m.

The SWE fundraiser ends on Oct. 31.

Interviews with Russo and Flenniken are available in the video below.

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