My SWE Experience
“The women that I’ve met and worked with are so accomplished – and I mean awesomely accomplished – and at the same time, so warm hearted and open to sharing their experience and to working together.”
How did you get involved with SWE?
I first encountered SWE on the campus at Cornell University when studying Engineering in 1975. I never knew such an association existed so I was naturally curious about this group of women all studying engineering. Over the years I often thought about SWE but my career wasn’t always directly involved with engineering.
Then when I moved into academia and got to my current institution, I realised that the percentage of women studying engineering in 2012 was the same as it was back in 1975!
So it was clear – we really needed some kind of support, some kind of network to support and encourage women studying engineering.
I thought being a faculty advisor is a great opportunity to bring SWE in – and also to introduce SWE in Austria because there was no such association here at that time.
Rishelle Wimmer, MA
Job Title & Organisation: Senior Lecturer, Department Information Technologies & Digitalisation (IT),
FH Salzburg University of Applied Science
Location: Salzburg, Austria
Academic Background: Engineering Studies Cornell University, Systems Analysis, Education Sciences Graduate Studies University of Salzburg
Years in SWE: since 2017
What is it that makes SWE valuable for you?
SWE is valuable because it makes women in engineering visible. It gives the opportunity for people to be seen and heard, and to know that you’re not alone. As a woman you’re not the only one. You may be the only one in the room at work, or in your studies, but you’re not the only one in the world!
What kind of people does SWE connect you with?
SWE connects all kinds of women engineers at whatever stage they’re at along the career path. Students, alumni, professionals working in the field, and also the younger generation who might be interested in engineering in the future.
In my contacts with companies, it’s clear there is a huge demand for engineers and it’s even harder to recruit women into those positions. So being able to make those connections is a fantastic element of what SWE offers.
How do you use SWE membership in your day-to-day work?
I’m the “go to” person for women in engineering in our university, so I get questions like “how do we bring more women into engineering?” or “what does the data show?”.
I find the “State of Women in Engineering” research programme that SWE has run for the last 20 years is hugely valuable to present facts and evidence.
Additionally, I can pass along opportunities – for example women in tech looking to connect with a broader community or making students aware of scholarships and internships in corporate programmes.
And crucially, at the university level when you’re applying for grants or funding e.g. for EU grants or scientific research, it’s always necessary to show that the University is doing something to support and formally encourage women in engineering and that we have established programmes for that purpose. So I would say our involvement with SWE has been invaluable to getting grants for research at our University as well as accreditation for new degree programs.
“Our involvement with SWE has been invaluable to getting grants for research at our University as well as accreditation for new degree programs.”
How does your organisation use the SWE network, activities and resources?
We use SWE activities to highlight a readily accessible network and support group for women in a variety of technical fields. This is really valuable as our current numbers show that women only make up between 11-35% of students enrolled in the courses depending on the area.
We also ran a career fair for girls and high school students – it was impressive for both the girls and the corporate partners – and was a great introduction to engineering as a career path.
I’ve found that students really appreciate how SWE activities brought them together, even just to get to know women in engineering from other semesters or years because within their day-to-day study that opportunity wasn’t there.
And later on, our SWE networks can really help with the transition from study in academia to the working world which can be really challenging.
“The women that I’ve met and worked with are so accomplished – and at the same time, so warm hearted and open to sharing their experience. ”
Can you give us a personal highlight from your time as a SWE member?
I’ve been on the editorial board and had wonderful opportunities with SWE Magazine, writing articles and supporting projects. For example, I had a great experience last year working on an award feature “Women Engineers You Should Know” and just getting to know these wonderful women who’ve had fantastic careers was great, something I would never have had the chance to do without SWE.
It’s really a wonderful feeling being with like-minded, incredible women. The women that I’ve met and worked with are so accomplished – and I mean awesomely accomplished – and at the same time, so warm hearted and open to sharing their experience and to working together.
I was working with board members who are a Vice President in American Express, or a Senior Scientist at Astra Zeneca or a Supervisor for IoT and Blockchain at Ford Motor Company, writing articles with them was a real highlight.
Ultimately, SWE provides me the chance to connect people I work with – especially graduates – to great opportunities.
“SWE provides me the chance to connect people I work with – especially graduates – to great opportunities. ”
Can you tell us about the activities your local SWE affiliate provides in addition to the global membership offer?
Our local affiliate offers a variety of informal connection opportunities so we can share perspectives and experiences on career paths, plus we offer job shadowing programs so that students and young professionals can get a glimpse into the real world of work.
What would you say to an experienced STEM professional wondering if SWE would be valuable to them?
SWE strengthens your belief in possibilities. It strengthens you at difficult times, especially at work when it seems like you’re alone, or you’re facing challenges that men are not facing and there’s nobody to talk about it with – or – there’s no-one who reflects your experience… SWE offers you that possibility – to connect to people who are like you.
What would you say to a university student in a STEM field wondering if SWE would be valuable to them?
I have learned we need to talk about the value of networks differently when discussing with students – they’ll usually think of “networks” as only for professionals and not somewhere they fit in. So I emphasise the ability to connect to others, to find a group where they belong and can see what others are doing and experiencing. They really appreciate a place to exchange about courses, professors and how-to’s. SWE is a great place to hear from others who have taken a similar path, how to succeed and find some shortcuts.