March 24, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh article in a series that will spotlight student organizations within the LSU College of Engineering.

From participating in service projects to coordinating the annual style show, the Society of Women Engineers has had a busy year.

President Cara Oliver, a mechanical engineering senior, described the organization’s main mission as being a source of support for women in STEM fields on LSU’s campus as well as in the community.

With just over 80 active members, she intends to have SWE be even more visible to interested women—and even men—than it has been in the past. She said they are open to any person who is interested in supporting the organization’s mission, but their programs particularly cater to women in all STEM fields.

“Supporting women in engineering and changing the stereotype of an engineer is a big part of our mission,” she said. “It’s really about creating a supportive network and letting everyone know that an engineer isn’t just a white male. It’s women, black women, Hispanic women and everyone in between.”

Oliver explained the organization has more standard meetings during the fall semester, where company representatives come speak to members about anything from their current projects to company culture. In the spring, they do more outreach, often doing community service events on weekends.

The regular meetings host representatives from companies like BASF, Halliburton and Schlumberger. Oliver said while they appreciate companies taking the time to send people to their meetings, they are also deliberate about making sure the topics they cover are relevant to women in STEM fields.

“We always ask that they come with a specific message,” she said, and these messages often align with specific events that are happening on campus.

For example, Oliver asked that one representative from Schlumberger come with resume tips for the industry. A few weeks later, he arrived with interviewing tips, just before the Spring Career Expo.

“A woman representative came from Halliburton to specifically talk about how to make your best impression before even turning in your resume,” Oliver said. “She talked about what to wear and when. She even got into the nitty gritty, discussing hygiene. There are just so many unwritten rules—far more for women in the industry than men.”

Oliver said the representative also shared a “best practices” checklist, which included things like knowing if a company’s culture is conservative and if women are expected to wear panty hose when in business attire.

The Women Impacting Style in Engineering (WISE) Event, an annual program, also tackles the slippery issue of appropriate attire for women in the engineering industry. The event focus specifically on what to wear in the office and at company related events that may take place outside of the office, like a company tailgate.

“The WISE Event is personally my favorite event of the year. Our members model different looks for work and work related events,” she said. “Last year I modeled, and I really loved it because I got to wear this Olivia Pope white coat and just channeled this beautiful, confident woman. It was a little nerve-wracking because I’m not used to being up on a runway, but it was definitely a fun and interesting experience.”

This year’s event is April 6 and will open with an hour of photos and networking with representatives from some of the companies that sponsor the event, like Halliburton and Westlake Chemical. Dinner and the style show will follow the networking hour.

“During the fashion show, we have hosts describe the outfits that the models are wearing, paying special attention to how the clothes should fit and what’s appropriate for the industry to educate the audience,” Oliver said. “That way a woman is less focused on whether or not her outfit is appropriate and can focus more on getting the job or the tasks set before her.”

The event also hosts a keynote speaker that talks about the event theme for the year. Last year’s theme was transitions, and Halliburton’s Michelle Green spoke about transitioning from one area of your life to the next.

“Michelle spoke really eloquently about transitioning from college to company. She had a particularly interesting story because she was returning to college during a time where she had children and was working already well into her career,” Oliver said. “I think it was really big interest for our members, especially for myself since I’m a senior. Going from college to career is a huge life change.”

In addition to large programs like the WISE Event, Oliver set out to be more involved at the university level, joking that “being over here in the engineering area, we tend to stick to ourselves on our little side of campus.”

SWE attends each university-wide student involvement fair, like Engineering Tiger Connections, which targets freshmen. They are also participating in Geaux Big this year, a community service event aimed at making the surrounding LSU and Baton Rouge community beautiful.
With both professional development and community service programming under their belt, SWE also takes an active role in community outreach by doing programs with the local Girl Scouts of America chapter and participating in Shell’s STEM Showdown.

“The showdown is a partnership with LSU and St. Joseph’s Academy,” Oliver said, “We team up with the Society of Peer Mentors and we send about six girls to mentor a group of SJA students.”

The annual competition includes four other high schools around Louisiana that are partnered with other colleges and universities in the state.

“It is always centered around some part of engineering. Last year, we helped the girls design and build a newspaper house. It covers the different fields from structural to civil,” she said.

All of the effort that SWE puts forth, both on and off campus, gives the organization the resources to create a supportive, educational space for women in STEM fields.

“Visibility is important to me because I want to make sure that all women and men in STEM fields know that we are available to them,” she said, “and that they can come to us for support.”

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For more information, please contact communications assistant M.B. Humphrey at 225-578-5660 or marissah@lsu.edu.

 



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