Breaking the glass ceiling: Marquette Society of Women Engineers make plans for the upcoming semester

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Marquette Society of Women Engineers organizers discussed the importance of female representation in male-dominated fields.

At a recent officer meeting, the Marquette Society of Women Engineers organizers discussed the importance of female representation in male-dominated fields while planning future events this semester. 

Marquette Society of Women Engineers is a service organization that has been around for more than 71 years, striving to help females advance their academic and leadership skills. The recently elected officers described the many plans for the 2021-22 SWE group, which included both educational and social events. 

The SWE Board consists of Katie McGrath, Gabby Chun, Kelsey Hughes, Guadalupe Domingues, Davina Lettau, Marissa Dauner, Gretchen Geiser and Sarah Ernst.

SWE received 29 applications from new students this year, excluding those who wished to participate via Microsoft Teams. The group plans to attend an international conference in Indianapolis sometime this semester. Members have high hopes for this event. By attending, they hope that members will experience what it’s like to be in the business world.

Another program SWE runs is the Mentorship Program, which many of the officers described as being an impactful participatory event. 

The program consists of groupings of underclassmen and upperclassman and professional mentors. Gretchen Geiser, a senior in the College of Engineering, explained what the mentor program is and why it benefits the members.

“The goal is to allow students to gain advice from mentors and find guidance,” said Geiser. “Students really enjoy this and look forward to meeting their mentors on a regular basis.”

As for the social side of the organization, SWE has many events coming up this year, including movie nights, pumpkin carving, an ice cream social and spa nights. 

Katie McGrath, social director for SWE and a senior in the College of Engineering, described the importance of social events beyond the educational aspects of the club. 

“This is a good place to be,” McGrath said. “We always say you’ve got your built-in besties. These are very hard majors that we’re in, so we want to have some fun too. Just different things to come together and take a break from school and just hang out and forget about classes for a while.”

Not only did the group discuss the future of the organization at Marquette, but they also dove into the importance of students having access to an organization like this on campus. Many members mentioned that typically they are one of four females in their classes, which can make them feel discouraged or unrepresented. 

“Being a part of SWE helps members overcome the fear of gender bias” said Sarah Ernst, SWE president and a senior in the college of engineering. Ernst gave advice for females pursuing heavily male-dominated fields: “Just stand your ground and be confident. You are as smart and as qualified as the boys who are in the same classes as you,” Ernst said.

The lack of female participation in STEM-related fields has been long-lasting. This has been a result of the notion that females aren’t smart or qualified enough to pursue these occupations according to AAUW, an organization striving to help this problem. On their website, they mention that females only make up 28% of occupations in STEM-related jobs. 

Dr. Kristina Ropella, Dean of the Opus College of Engineering, described her own troubles with the pursuit of her career and the journey she had to take to reach her current position.

“There were some professors who spoke outwardly about how women getting engineering degrees was a waste of time because they were just going to go and get married and have families,” Ropella said.

Even though Ropella faced difficulties, she has high hopes for not only the future of the Opus College of Engineering, but also the diversity within the college itself. She believes in the importance of including all walks of life within the college and wants to create a safe space for ideas to be shared and transformed, “seek people who support you,” Ropella said. 

Allie Plante, a first-year in the College of Engineering, said she plans to pursue a job in government doing environmental engineering with hopes to improve sustainability. When Plante would describe to people her aspirations back home, she was overwhelmed with judgmental looks and responses.

Even though Plante saw discouragement in this, it didn’t stop her from following her dreams. Now, Plante is an engineering student and is already starting to see success within her studies.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s nothing unbearable. Nothing will beat the feeling of empowerment by getting good grades in a male-dominated class,” Plante said.

This story was written by Phoebe Goebel. She can be reached at phoebe.goebel@marquette.edu