Friday, March 21, 2014

AWE and SWE—One in the same?

When you first arrive on campus as a female engineering student, you start to hear these acronyms. SWE, AWE, APO, BE, MEAM, ESE…the list goes on and on. However, two of them are more similar than the rest. SWE and AWE at first appear to be pretty similar organizations. SWE—the Society of Women Engineers—sounds pretty similar to AWE—Advancing Women in Engineering—so they must be pretty similar, correct? The foundation of each organization, to help women in engineering, is similar but the organizations themselves each have their own unique features. As a member of both the Advancing Women in Engineering Student Advisory Board and the Society of Women Engineers’ Executive Board, I have had the opportunity to see both organizations from an internal and external view. 

AWE is “dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and promoting women in Penn Engineering” with initiatives to increase the number of women studying engineering and enhance their experience with available opportunities. These goals create a network of female engineers within Penn’s broader engineering school. It’s important to create this community in a field often dominated by men to show our peers that every opportunity out there is also available to us as women. I love being a part of the AWE Student Advisory Board because it gives me an opportunity to shape the future of Penn engineering. Although most people don’t know much about us, we are a group of approximately 30 women (and one guy!) from all majors and years within the engineering school who meet every two weeks. 

Within the AWE Student Advisory board, we plan social events, professional events, and outreach events. Each event is usually planned by a group of 3-4 women from the Student Advisory Board. The Board also includes graduate students who provide another insight into the Penn engineering community and plan their own graduate events in addition to the rest of the events. We plan events like study breaks and major wide dinners to foster this community development. In addition to social events, we also help Michele Grab (our fearless leader) plan outreach events to local schools or volunteer our time to help at outreach events like Sleeping Bag Weekend. It’s great to see student interactions at these events after the board has worked to plan the event and most importantly, picked the food.

SWE is “aimed at informing the community of the qualifications and achievements of women engineers. Its mission is to stimulate women to achieve their full potential in their careers as engineers and as leaders, to expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and to demonstrate the value of diversity.” These goals provide a broader, nationwide community with which to learn about the more professional side of being a woman in engineering. This community after college is only strengthened by the communities that organizations like AWE and SWE create within the community at Penn. The SWE Undergraduate Executive Board is composed of 15 undergraduate women who are all responsible for creating and developing events within their respective positions. Although some SWE events like social gatherings and outreach activities overlap with the purposes and activities of AWE, SWE provides a unique opportunity to expand female engineers’ professional opportunity through events like the SWE Corporate Dinner or corporate networking events. 

Although distinctly different, AWE and SWE both work to provide an opportunity for female engineers to meet each other and learn from each other—one of the most important aspects of your college career! 

Cathryn is a junior in Bioengineering.  Questions for Cathryn?  email her at

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