University of Massachusetts Amherst

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SWE Makes Life a Lot Easier for Women Engineering Students

Kelly Kennedy

Senior electrical engineering major Kelly Kennedy plays a key role in helping female students at the UMass Amherst College of Engineering stay the course at school, thrive in their educations, and graduate into gainful jobs. She is the president of the UMass Amherst chapter for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). If you are a female contemplating attending the college, you ought to be aware of what Kelly, SWE, and all its activities can do for you. By joining SWE, you are guaranteed an expanding network of college and professional contacts, a built-in female support system in a male-dominated field, a mentor to guide you through your stressful first year, and much, much more.

SWE will provide you with aid and comfort from your first week in school.

“In my first meeting I was immediately paired up with a SWE junior as my mentor,” says Kelly. “She was someone who had already been through what I was about to go through and knew how to do it. She really helped me get through my first year. She told me it’s okay that I’m stressing out about these courses because everyone does. Her advice was invaluable.”

Unfortunately, Kelly wasn’t aware of SWE before she came to UMass. She was lucky enough to get a hot tip about the first meeting, and SWE has made her lot in life a lot easier ever since. Hence, Kelly wants to make sure that new students know about SWE even before they find out that locals pronounce Amherst with a silent “h.”

“Now that I’m president, that’s one of the biggest things we’re trying to work on,” says Kelly. “We’d like incoming female students to know what SWE can offer them before they get here.”

The fact that you’re reading this article means that Kelly’s strategy, alerting you to SWE with her 20-20 foresight, is working big time. Beyond this article and other methods of getting the good news out about SWE to incoming students, the chapter is also working on outreach programs in different high schools, where SWE members can talk about engineering in general, and women in engineering especially.

Thanks in part to Kelly’s contributions as a former SWE mentor, past vice president, and current president, SWE has more than doubled in size, from about 40 to 100, since she was a freshman. But SWE still provides a mentor to any new member who wants one. Beyond that, the SWE chapter equips each new member with an instant pool of friends who are all in this thing together, plus an expanding web of colleagues for the future.

“A lot of times, when you’re a freshman, you don’t even know the other girls in your class,” Kelly observes from experience. “SWE gives you a built-in networking system through the chapter meeting, study groups, mentoring process, SWE events, and the national and regional SWE conferences.”

Meanwhile, Kelly and the other SWE officers are planning quite a few events this year in which important companies, such as Verizon, Raytheon, and Texas Instruments, will either hold info-sessions in which they pitch their companies to women, or hold various kinds of educational workshops.

The UMass Amherst SWE chapter has also raised enough money to send about 10 SWE members to the national SWE conference in Baltimore this year. Each SWE conference is basically a Petri dish for culturing professional networks, invaluable information, and potential jobs.

“The biggest service that SWE can provide is networking opportunities,” explains Kelly. “For instance, during the national SWE conference, some 200 companies come in to recruit women engineers, and we as attendees can talk to people from whichever companies we prefer. So if you attend a SWE conference, there’s a good possibility that you will leave with a job or with a contact that will later lead in a job.”

Kelly ought to know. Last year’s national SWE conference led to her summer 2014 work as a Technical Sales Engineer Intern at Texas Instruments. That conference also eventually triggered more than one fulltime job offer, which she is currently contemplating. 

“The biggest factor for sticking with your education is to get involved,” declares Kelly. “If you get involved, you’re probably going to stay with engineering. And SWE is a great way to get involved.”

And Kelly also looks forward to many more fruitful years of SWE membership after she graduates into her first professional position.

“After I get my first job,” she vows, “I will definitely join the local professional SWE chapter to continue networking with other women who are professional engineers. It’s invaluable.” Yes, right from the first week of school! (September 2014)