Collegiate section recognized for recruiting, retaining diverse membership
Future engineer Paige Ross looks back to the isolating experience of being the only woman in her engineering class, which strengthened her commitment to create a culture of belonging for all women in STEM at Cal Poly.
Ross now is president of Cal Poly’s Society of Women Engineers, which was recently honored with the Boeing Company Collegiate Multicultural Award for increasing and retaining a diverse membership in an inclusive environment.
“It’s always our goal to make sure we are focused on the intersection of identities in STEM,” said Ross, a fifth-year student in the blended master’s program for mechanical engineering. “I am passionate about letting people know we’re here for them and providing a place where they feel welcome.”
The Boeing award recognized Cal Poly SWE for showing advances in growing a diverse membership with unique characteristics, including ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender, and an inclusive environment where all members experience a sense of belonging.
“Cal Poly SWE highlighted numerous efforts focusing on retaining diverse membership, recruiting new membership and inspiring the next generation of engineers,” said Mary Beth Biddle, SWE FY23 Awards and Recognition chair. “The section focused on many aspects of diversity, and there was a clear and powerful articulation of the impact the group is having.”
Members will be recognized during WE22 – the world’s largest conference and career fair for women engineers and technologists – slated for Oct. 20-22 in Houston, Texas.
The College of Engineering hit a milestone this fall as it welcomed the most diverse group of incoming first-year engineering students, with more women and students of color than ever before.
“We are moving in a positive direction, getting more girls into engineering,” said third-year mechanical engineering student Madison Kai, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We are working hard to build a more equitable environment and I’m really proud of our efforts.”
Ross estimates Cal Poly SWE includes about 200 active members and 42 officers who all are passionate about women in engineering.
Highlights last school year included promotion of the new Women of Color Engineering Mentor Program that connects women of color engineering students with Cal Poly alumni, the creation of statewide liability forms translated into six languages and developing partnerships with K-12 schools that have high percentages of traditionally underrepresented minority populations.
A major point of pride for the group involved expanding the multicultural program to include and highlight the intersection of LGBT+ identities and STEM.
Cal Poly SWE centered its largest annual networking event, Evening with Industry, around LGBTQ+ voices and contributions to science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, the group partnered with the Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast in highlighting queer perspectives during Winter Girl Scout Day.
The section has big plans this year that include bringing a greater number of high school students across the state onto campus to learn about the engineering program, increasing collaboration with other clubs and advancing DEI initiatives.
Innovative events are foundational to the group’s outreach, but Ross believes the most critical part is how members feel.
“What would a member say if you asked them what they think about SWE?” Ross said she asks herself. “We want to provide a safe space where they thrive, have access to all the resources they need and have a lot of fun in the process.”
Learn more about Cal Poly SWE.