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Hi, I’m Jessica Rannow, FY17 President of the Society of Women Engineers and this is SWE’s Diverse podcast series. Please remember to add this podcast to your iTunes and like or follow us on social media. Visit swe.org for more details
Joining me now is Della Cronin, a principal at Washington Partners. Della works with SWE on public policy and STEM education issues. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, with a minor in Political Science from Virginia Tech.
Hi Della, thanks for joining us.
Della: Thanks, Jessica. So happy to be here. I thought I’d start with just a few observations and updates from Washington, DC.
The Administration is very busy. You could say that they are flying a plane while they are building it. The President has issues a number of sweeping executive orders, but is still pulling together his team. A number of cabinet officials are still in the process of being vetted and approved. SWE will be keenly interested in who is leading the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Labor Department and some others. So far, we haven’t been able to learn very much about the nominees’ positions on STEM education, Title IX and other issues important to the organizations, but hopefully once they are settled into their agencies, we will.
Also, I’d like to note that in this new Administration, SWE might have an ally in Ivanka Trump. She is clearly influential in the White House and has signaled her interest in addressing issues that affect women in the workplace. In fact, she recently said she was quite interested in a program she had heard about that supported women in technical fields and professions returning to the workforce—a program congruent with the goals of SWE’s Reentry Task Force.
There are still far more questions than answers regarding what the White House and new cabinet leaders might think about federal policies that affect women engineers and the STEM pipeline, but there is always opportunity in this time of turnover.
On Capitol Hill, SWE still has champions, and we’ve already been contacted about a few pieces of legislation. Diversity in STEM faculty, career and technical education and the Higher Education Act are among the issues that are already being talked about. And staff are calling on SWE for input. That’s good news for the organization.
Jessica: The theme of SWE’s Congressional Visits this year is “Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM.” Tell us more about the event.
Della: The two-day event will take place on March 15-16 in Washington. SWE members and like-minded organizations in Washington, DC will be visiting members of Congress and talking to them about STEM education efforts. On the 15th, SWE members will have the chance to participate in training and then a reception on Capitol Hill. The second day will consist of a breakfast and then meetings in Congressional offices with Members of Congress in the House and Senate and/or their staff.
This is an annual event, sponsored by SWE, and is open to other STEM organizations interested in participating. Each year the messaging changes a bit, but the goal is to increase awareness of the need for and the importance of increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. And, 2017 is the first year of the 115th Congress, which means there are new Members of Congress to meet and greet.
Jessica: How do you view the current climate in Washington for these efforts?
Della: There’s no doubt that the results of last November’s elections are still reverberating across Washington, in all three branches of government. The last transition at the White House was eight years ago. The one before that—eight years before that, the one before that was also eight years before that. That means that transitions are jarring, since it’s been a while since everyone has been through one. And the technology advances since President Obama took office have changed the world. For example, there was not Twitter eight years ago.
But, every transition is full of opportunity. New members who care about STEM education. Or have young girls in their lives that they’d like to see become scientists, engineers or computer scientists. An ongoing presence in DC helps SWE identify these friends, as does participation in coalitions. As does SWE’s Capitol Hill Day. SWE will work with this Congress and the new administration—old friends and new ones—to strengthen America’s schools and the STEM workforce by continuing to work toward equal opportunity for women and girls in STEM education and careers.
Jessica: Tell us about SWE’s Legislative Action Center.
Members can also contact their elected officials through SWE’s Legislative Action Center on SWE.org. This resource is great for learning the names of your nationally elected officials—remember, everyone has three elected officials looking out for their interests in Washington, DC—one representative and two senators. There are also tools and suggested language you can use to communicate with your elected officials. Consider setting a monthly or quarterly calendar reminder to visit the SWE’s Legislative Action Center and contact your elected officials. Remember:
- While sending an email is good, calling is better.
- While calling once is good, calling regularly is better.
- While calling is good, setting up a meeting (in your state or in DC) is better.
Jessica: SWE also has a webinar for members to learn more about advocacy.
Della: Members can view SWE’s 2016 Webinar called “Local Advocacy and Public Policy Issues Related to Women in STEM” to learn about the history of SWE’s advocacy efforts, the current work of SWE’s Governmental Relations and Public Policy Committee, and recent issues that impact women in STEM. You’ll find that webinar in the SWE Advance Learning Center on SWE.org.
Jessica: SWE also has Advocacy Education Modules?
Della: These modules, Advocacy 101 and Advocacy 201, help SWE members learn how to vocalize their passions and share their support of SWE in their community. The second module goes into greater depth about the work of SWE’s Governmental Relations and Public Policy Committee. Both are excellent resources for newcomers to general advocacy work.
I’d like to invoke a quote that has been attributed to many, including LBJ: “The time to make friends is before you need them.” It’s important for SWE and its members to be consistent in their contacts and messaging with elected officials at all levels. Going in and out of advocacy is not effective. You have to stay at it—through thick and thin. I mention this because some feel that there is little point to engaging with those with whom you disagree. That’s not the case. Like minded allies (elected and otherwise) appreciate the consistency. It’s always better to be at the table. Even if you don’t like what is being served.
Della, thank you so much for joining us.
Della Cronin is a principal at Washington Partners. Della works with her colleagues on K-12 and higher education issues and manages the firm’s STEM education work.
Register to Attend SWE Congressional Visit Days in Washington, DC “Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM.” Registration is now open and available via this link. Space is very limited. The event will take place on March 15-16, 2017.
Della, thanks for participating in SWE’s Diverse podcast series.