UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the fifth consecutive year, Penn State Society of Women Engineers (SWE) received the highest possible collegiate recognition within the Society of Women Engineers — the Outstanding Collegiate Section Gold Mission Award — at the WE18 National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, held Oct. 18-20. The conference is the largest gathering of women engineers across all major engineering disciplines.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment, given the incredibly high standards and fierce national competition to recognize measurable year-long impact,” said Cheryl Knobloch, director of the Penn State Women in Engineering Program and Penn State SWE chapter adviser. “Penn State SWE members epitomize the attributes of a world-class engineer. They consistently commit to excellence and creatively generate innovative programming to advance their engineering peers and enrich our College. Their well-deserved recognition distinguishes them as visionary leaders and models for collegiate SWE chapters nationwide. We are very proud of their accomplishments.”
The award is earned through the submission of an extensive application that outlines every Penn State SWE event that emulates SWE’s strategic goals centered on professional excellence, globalization, advocacy and diversity and inclusion. The application was compiled and submitted over the summer by Penn State SWE External Relations Director Kelly Weikel.
“What helps us stand out among other collegiate chapters is our passion for the organization. We hold so many events every year, and it’s not because we have to, it’s because we want to,” Beth Gasparich, president of Penn State SWE and biomedical engineering senior, said. “One of our best new events last year was creating a donation drive for hurricane relief victims, which isn’t something we had to do — it’s just because we’re so passionate about helping the University, our community and the world.”
Kayli Rentzel, secretary of Penn State SWE and mechanical engineering junior, added, “We have a lot of support from the University, the college, and our corporate sponsors to really offer amazing opportunities, including scholarships. Penn State is a special place. Here, people are having conversations about women in engineering and they make sure to support us. They are advocating for that change in the field, and we feel really lucky at Penn State for that.”
Penn State SWE was also recognized at WE18 as a “Best Practice” for other collegiate sections to follow in two categories:
— Outreach, for SWE Stayover, where 80-90 prospective Penn State engineering female students visit and engage with current members; and
— Global, for STEP UP, a collaborative three-day transition program for students from Penn State Commonwealth campuses; Diversity Round Table, where organizations — including National Society of Black Engineers, Association for Women in Computing, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and more — discuss ways to support inclusion in engineering at Penn State; Hurricane Relief Donation Drive, where Penn State SWE donated and packaged hurricane relief kits for storm victims in the southern states; and blood drives, where Penn State SWE members donated blood to help others in medical need.
“Overall, we offer a lot of different events and activities that make it a great resource for the female students currently in engineering, and we also help spread our mission and outreach to younger girls to get them interested in the field,” said Rentzel.
In addition, Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering alumna Natalie Miller received the SWE Distinguished New Engineer Award at WE18 for setting a high bar for success in architectural engineering; for long-standing service to SWE; and for commitment to educating and inspiring current and future women engineers. Miller graduated in 2009 with an integrated bachelor and master of architectural engineering degree, and is currently a senior project manager at Davis Construction.
SWE is a national organization comprised of both student and professional members, with the mission to “empower women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion.” Penn State SWE was founded in 1975 and has grown to become the largest and most active engineering organization on campus, with more than 250 members.
“Being a member of Penn State SWE has definitely done a lot for me. Aside from making great friends and having a strong support system, it really helped me become a better leader,” said Gasparich. “I was able to come out of my shell and be a much more outgoing person. Coming in, I was really nervous, didn’t talk to many people, but being able to be a leader just gave me so much more confidence, so it really helped me as a person overall.”