Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hey Class of 2015 Women Engineers, Sign up for Pre-Orientation!

I was, admittedly, quite nervous before coming to Penn. I mean, engineering in general is quite the undertaking. Engineering at Penn? Scary. Engineering at Penn, as a woman? Terrifying.

The anxiety felt inexplicable—I had always been confident in my math and science abilities—and yet, I think it’s something many women experience. In fact, the women you would least expect are even affected by gender stereotypes and societal pressures. The deeper I get into the field of computer science, the clearer this becomes. My brother, a junior in CS at Rochester Institute of Technology, has never had a girl in a CS class. An even greater shock came to me when I visited the Google offices in New York last week, and went to a talk with Kaleigh Smith, a woman working in Google Maps. Rates of female engineers even at Google can be as low as 1%, and never higher than 15%. Kaleigh’s obviously talented—she’s working at GOOGLE—but even she admitted feeling inferior to the men. She said that she only very recently had a moment of clarity, realizing that she was on par, or even better than her male peers.

So, it appears that intimidation and insecurity is quite common among female engineers. Luckily for us at Penn, Advancing Women in Engineering helps to create a supportive community. Out of the variety of programs they host, the pre-orientation is a favorite. I was unsure when I signed up for the pre-orientation, and ended up being incredibly grateful that I had.

AWE’s pre-orientation allows you to move in a few days early, and basically, learn and have fun. Activities range from informative, such as faculty lectures, and unabashed fun, like trolley rides and center city outings. Overall, the program helped me feel more confident and comfortable in all areas—social and academic. Having an idea of what to expect helped to quell my nerves. The greatest benefit, I think, was that it eased the transition into college. I’m from Cleveland, have never lived away from home, and didn’t know a single person in Philadelphia… so I was uneasy. Add shyness into the mix, and the idea of coming to school and meeting hundreds of new people became incredibly daunting. With AWE, I got to know a smaller group before entering NSO, which can be a little overwhelming. It helped me go into NSO with confidence because I had already made friends with whom I could go to activities with. Even now, I find myself occasionally recognizing a girl from AWE—even one I only met briefly—and can strike up a conversation about it. Pre-orientation gave me a network of peers with whom I have many things in common, and can get support from.

I formed some strong, lasting relationships during pre-orientation. One girl I met the very first day is one my best friends now. I really think that going to the pre-orientation was one of the best choices I made during my college transition. It’s great to know that the female engineers have each others’ backs!

Blog written by Elissa Wolf, freshman. Sign up for pre-orientation at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Engineers and Study Abroad!

Myth: Engineers Can't go abroad and Graduate on Time
Truth: YES they Can!

Hey! My name is Megan and I'm a third year undergrad studying mechanical engineering at Penn. Since the time I was in high school, I couldn't wait to spend one of my college semesters abroad. I loved to travel and had been very lucky to visit Europe and South America during high school. When the time came three years later to apply to a study abroad program, I realized that the list of options for engineering students was sadly very short. However, I did have several options, and after much consideration, I decided to go to an English speaking country. At the beginning of my fall semester junior year, I landed in Glasgow, Scotland- a city that was entirely foreign to me in a country that I had visited only once before.

Starting from international student orientation week and continuing through the rest of the semester, I built myself a network of friends and peers from all over Europe and the world. Glasgow University has a huge population of European exchange students, so about half of my friends were European and the rest were Americans, New Zealanders, and Canadians. With an incredibly light work load and fewer class hours, I had more free time than I had had during my previous four semesters at Penn combined! Although the UK university system emphasized self-study compared to class hours, Penn had totally prepared me for all the academic challenges that I faced during my time there. With all of our new free time, my friends and I traveled all over Scotland, Barcelona, Ireland, London, Amsterdam and Munich. We cooked dinners every week, the Scots aren't known for their food (rightfully so!), and explored the different neighborhoods and the city center of Glasgow. The city was formerly an old industrial ship-building city that is in the midst of an economic and cultural revival. As such, it is home to some of the most popular dance clubs and theaters in the UK. The Glaswegian people I met were so friendly too. Every bus driver and professor was willing to help, but the accent definitely took some time to get used to!

Taking a semester off from Penn to study abroad was one of the best experiences of my four years of college. I learned invaluable insight about myself and about the world--and I'm right on track with courses to graduate on time. If you get the chance to study abroad, it's well worth the effort, believe me.

Photo credit: Author in front of University Tower of Glasgow University

Friday, April 8, 2011

Congrats to Penn SWE!

Congratulations to Penn SWE for being named Region E Outstanding Collegiate Section!

Penn SWE was named Region E Outstanding Collegiate Section at the Region E Conference held March 25 – 27, 2010 in Charlottesville, VA. Penn SWE was selected from 57 collegiate sections within Region E by a committee of regional leaders. Along with receiving the title of Outstanding Collegiate Section, they were awarded a plaque and cash prize, which will be used to continue to support SWE events and members.

Penn SWE was awarded specifically for its successful hosting of last year’s Region E Conference in March 2010, High School Shadowing Day held in October, and the 14th Annual Corporate Dinner held this February. Last year’s Region E Conference saw over 300 attendees (the largest attendance in recent history) and hosted influential National SWE leaders, professionals, and collegiates. High School Shadowing Day, which is Penn SWE’s largest outreach event, brought 30 high school girls to Penn Engineering to shadow SWE members. The high school attendees learned about different engineering majors, what it’s like to study engineering in college, and the types of careers available in the future. The 14th Annual Corporate Dinner was a big success again this year as it brought together engineering students in many fields and levels of study with industry recruiters from such sponsoring companies as Barclays Capital, Merck, Micros Systems, and Accenture.

Along with being awarded Outstanding Collegiate Section at the Region E Conference, Penn SWE earned third place in Region E’s Membership Drive for a 92% increase in national SWE membership this year. The 10 Penn SWE members in attendance at the conference also met and spoke with SWE Society President Siddika Demir, Region E Governor Colleen Layman, and many other national and regional leaders. Three Penn SWE members were also elected to this year’s Region E Collegiate Leadership Team: congratulations to Region Collegiate Representative Anita Sapre, Region Collegiate Senator Melissa Cedarholm, and Region Collegiate Alternate Senator Sheetal Rajagopal! All three will be attending the Collegiate Leadership Forum this summer with the SWE Board of Directors along with regional leaders from across the country.

Penn SWE has had a terrific year at the regional and local level, and they appreciate the continued support and dedication of all SWE members as well as the support of Penn Engineering staff and faculty. Penn SWE recently elected its incoming board for next year and is looking forward to another great year!

Written by Samantha Wang, Past SWE President, Senior, Bioengineering