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SWE 2021 Conference Team 900

Engineering Vols Bring Home Top Awards from National SWE Conference


The TCE chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) earned awards and recognition at the 2021 SWE National Conference, held October 21–23 in Indianapolis. Twenty-three UT SWE members attended, with their trip sponsored by the college as part of TCE’s commitment to supporting and recruiting women in engineering.

The conference left the Engineering Vols energized.

“Attending the first SWE in-person conference in two pandemic-ridden years couldn’t have been more special,” said Sreya Kumpatla, junior in aerospace engineering. “I enjoyed every event I attended, from the powerful opening keynote speaker Stephanie Hill, to the insightful closing speaker Patti Poppe, and all of the talks and seminars in between.”

“The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Aspire to Inspire’ and the experience was truly inspiring,” said Alaina Washington, sophomore in industrial and systems engineering (ISE). “The conference expanded my views of what is possible for me to achieve with my engineering degree.”

SWE brought three collegiate awards home to Rocky Top, including the SWE Mission Gold Award, the highest honor a collegiate section can receive. They were recognized for the breadth of their activities for encouraging members to get active in the community in any way they could, virtually or safely in person.

“We were honored alongside 29 other sections,” said SWE President Megan Hines, senior in biomedical engineering. “As a result, Kay Howell (ISE) and I got to visit with other award recipients at the conference and chat with SWE President Rachel Morford.”

Following this top honor, the SWEeties mentorship program won Best Practice in Mentorship. This program has been organized over the past year by Hines, overseen alongside now President-Elect Natalie Hester.

“Our SWEeties program continues to be an impactful experience for SWE members every year,” said Hines. “Our goal is to increase the retention of female engineering students through our efforts.”

The annual SWE outreach program Tomorrow’s Engineers Today (TET) won the third award, Best Practice in Outreach. Hines credits diligent work and coordination of Kay Howell and her TET team.

“TET has always been a great way for SWE to both reach out to prospective students and encourage STEM interest in students at a young age,” said Hines. “Our program gets bigger every year, and last year was no exception.”

In addition to these awards, four outstanding SWE members were accepted into SWE’s Collegiate Leadership Institute: Hines, Kumpatla, Macayla Dwyer, and Kasthuri Pillapalayam. SWE selects leaders for this program based on their dedication to SWE, leadership experience, and leadership qualities. CLI is a year-long program meant to develop leadership potential through networking sessions and group sessions like “Reinspire Your Future” and “Confidence and Influence in a Challenge.”

“The four of us attended a fun kickoff brunch at the conference where we met other participants and got to know them,” said Hines. “We are really looking forward to the CLI events this year, and I hope to see more SWE members participate in this in future years.”

For 22 of the 23 Vol attendees, this experience marked their first time attending a conference in person. Along with the inspiring speakers and new colleagues, they were able to participate in the SWE Career Fair.

“We were in awe at how many companies were at the career fair and how many sessions we could attend,” said Hines. “The conference has resources for women in engineering at all stages in their careers, and I hope to continue making the annual trip to learn more and network with engineering leaders.”

The conference offered sessions in a variety of focus areas such as diversity and inclusion, career management, outreach and advocacy, technology, and strategic leadership. Attendees could tailor their experience by focusing on one track or choosing sessions from any track. Notable conference sessions included “Engineering Me: Developing Resilience and a Sense of Belonging” and “From Beaker to Gavel: Engineers Make Great Lawyers.”

“I never would have learned about these topics outside of this unique setting,” said Kumpatla. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a woman in engineering by attending the WE21 conference.”

“I walked away with insights on how to grow myself both personally and professionally,” agreed Washington. “I highly recommend attending next year’s national conference for all women engineers, women in STEM, or supporters of women in STEM.”

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