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Students in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) posing for photo at WE23 National Conference

UT SWE Lived Without Limits at WE23 National Conference

The University of Tennessee chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) was recognized at the WE23 National Conference, in Los Angeles, California, from October 26-28, 2023. Sponsored by the Tickle College of Engineering (TCE), 20 UT SWE members attended the world’s largest conference for women in engineering and technology.

With more than 17,000 attendees at WE23, it was the largest SWE conference crowd in history. UT SWE followed the event’s theme, “Live Without Limits,” and brought home awards as a group and individually. The chapter won both the Silver Mission Award and Best Practice in Mentoring Mission Award for National SWE 2023-2024.

Students posing at the SWE Event

This is the second time in three years UT SWE has been awarded the Mentoring Mission Award, showing the chapter’s dedication to investing in the next generation of female engineers through their SWEeties program. Individually, UT SWE graduate member Kim Pestovich won first place in the Graduate Collegiate Rapid Fire Competition.

UT SWE president Jessica Nelson attended the awards reception on behalf of the chapter. UT SWE was “the highest awarded SWE section in the SEC [Southeastern Conference], which is an amazing accomplishment,” Nelson said.

Along with collegiate competitions and awards ceremonies, the conference consisted of daily keynote speakers and sessions, company-sponsored dinners, a career fair with on-site interviews, and people redefining what an engineer looks like.

The daily sessions aligned with one of seven categories: advocacy and collaboration; career management and development; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; self-management and development; strategic leadership; tech talk; and technical innovations.

UT SWE junior Michelle Zhong discovered what it meant to “Live Without Limits” during her time at the event. “Besides the career fair, I attended various speaker sessions regarding growing your voice, confidence, and how to grow personally and professionally,” said Zhong. “One keynote speaker, Joannie Fu, made a really prominent impact on me. She described a time in which her manager said to her, ‘Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary?’ and I have held this quote with me ever since.”

Student posing in front of Live Without Limits sign

Fu inspired Zhong to have a new outlook on her own self. “It was so empowering to hear her growth as an Asian American engineer at Intel and how she has gotten to where she is today,” Zhong said. “She emphasized the importance of authenticity and intersectionality, showing that the authentic you is the best you. This inspired me to challenge myself as an introvert and talk to as many people as possible at the conference.”

Other ways UT SWE members learned to “Live Without Limits” was through affinity groups and the Collegiate Leadership Institute (CLI). Affinity groups allowed individuals to connect with others who were likeminded, while the CLI program’s purpose was to develop leadership potential through networking and group sessions.

“I was invited to exclusive networking events such as the CLI Speed Networking and the Collegiate Leaders reception,” said Nelson. “I was overwhelmed by how supportive all of these female engineers that I met were.”

The conference also led a group of UT SWE members to secure internships with Northrop Grumman this summer. The members were invited to attend Northrop Grumman’s luncheon, “Women Defining Possible,” where they networked with Northrop Grumman employees and listened to their stories. Northrop Grumman also held a raffle for mentorship opportunities, which UT SWE junior Cameron Castleberry won.

“Overall, this conference was a great experience for all – full of personal enrichment, professional growth, and many new friends. Many SWE members are already looking forward to attending WE24 in Chicago next year,” Nelson said. “Staying true to their word, TCE was committed to women and diversity in engineering by supporting them in this empowering opportunity.”


Lilly Tran (