SWE has a mission to be a global, inclusive organization, promoting diversity and serving women engineers wherever they are. Our members and partners make this mission possible. So, for this Why Advocate installment, we wanted to take a look at how our members and partners are advocating globally. We talked to Karen Ramsey-Idem, Director of Global Technical Operations at Cummins Central Components about what advocating globally means to her and her organization.
“We need to use the privileges that we have to make the world a better place,” said Karen. “I really believe in paying forward. I’ve been blessed and privileged and now it’s my turn to make sure others have similar opportunities.”
Karen has found a comfortable place at Cummins as a woman engineer. “I’m fortunate in that I work for a company that has very strong core values that are aligned to my personal core values,” she explains. “We believe strongly in diversity, inclusion, global mindsets and corporate responsibility.”
Karen is talking about Cummins’ outreach and advocacy programs. Cummins has operations in 190 countries around the world. Employees can participate in corporate responsibility activities no matter where they work. The company has technical centers in multiple locations in the US, the UK, China, Europe, India, Mexico and Brazil, as well as smaller technical groups at a number of other locations around the world. Whether traveling for work or in her “home” location, Karen has the opportunity to make a difference and volunteer for outreach programs.
When we spoke with Karen she was in India at the time. “Here in Pune, we sponsor two schools for children who have visual impairments and we have been working with them directly doing things like creating a garden and an orchard so they have a sustainable means of food,” she explains. “The garden has been so bountiful that they are selling produce and making an income!”
“We work with these children and the schools’ staff to improve the buildings and grounds they live and learn in, and provide them vocational training so that they can have meaningful jobs when they are adults.”
Cummins designed custom Lego kits that are used as part of their outreach events. The kits are scale models of diesel engines that the company produces. Karen and her colleagues use these kits as an opportunity to introduce kids in underdeveloped areas to STEM, talking to them about design, manufacturing and engineering.
“In my day job, I have had incredible opportunities to go to different places and experience some of the challenges that humans face around the world,” said Karen. “As big a challenge as it might have been for me to become an engineer, I see that even greater challenges are in front of people who are just trying to get an elementary or high school level education, much less trying to obtain something beyond that.”
“I believe through advocacy, we can change that. We can have a long-term sustainable impact on whole communities.”
We asked Karen what kind of advice she has for those wishing to advocate globally, whether personally or on behalf of their own organizations.
“Start by understanding yourself – what are your strengths and what are your passions,” she explained. “Look for others who are aligned with that. If there is something you feel really strongly about, you’re going to find other people who have that interest as well.”
Karen also explained that partnering with other organizations is a good way to start advocating globally. For instance, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides have a global presence. Organizations with a similar mission to SWE are a good place to start.
“Finding individuals within that organization who are passionate in the early stages of their careers will make a huge impact,” said Karen. “If they’re passionate early, they’re going to want to become advocates for others on the same path.”
Karen also recommended looking internally at SWE. “We have so many resources at SWE – resources online, SWENext, the staff at HQ,” she said. “Draw upon those resources. Leverage what we have and build upon that.”
“Having a sustainable STEM workforce is the heart and soul of being successful in a company that so heavily relies on technology, said Karen. “We worry about the pipeline and the next generation and where it’s going to come from. We want to be sure that young students today can have those aspirations and reach for an engineering or technology career and be successful in it.”
Karen’s daughter is proof that this is possible.
“I joined SWE 13 years ago. I have a daughter who was seven when I went to the SWE conference. She’s now a junior in college majoring in mechanical engineering, absolutely loving what she’s doing. She read about a NASA contest, formed a team, made a proposal, was accepted by NASA, and they’ve been chosen as one of eight finalists in the NASA competition. I feel fairly certain I’ve influenced her and her career choice, along with her father who is also a mechanical engineer.”
“I want people to feel like advocacy does have results. Both in your personal life as well as in outreach. Whether in your company, your community or half way around the world, you can make a difference. You might not see it…the results could come to fruition when you’ve moved on, but you will have an impact.”