Podcast: SWE’s Congressional Outreach

In this podcast, FY18 SWE President Jonna Gerken talks to Della Cronin about SWE's Congressional Outreach event in March.
Podcast: Swe’s Congressional Outreach


Hi, I’m Jonna Gerken, FY18 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 Bose 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, Jonna.  So happy to be here.

(Questions/Talking Points)


I thought I’d start with just a few observations and updates from Washington, DC.

I’m going to assume that if you are listening to this podcast, then you have an interest in policy and are generally aware of what is going on in Washington, DC.  That means that you know that the first year of the Trump Administration has been an interesting one. There have been acrimonious and partisan disagreements about many issues, including those that affect SWE’s policy goals. For example, the President has proposed gutting some programs at the Department of Education that SWE and the STEM education community believe are very important. In addition, the White House proposals regarding the federal research agencies and their budgets have caused concern. SWE, an organization committed to diversity in all organizations, has noticed that the cabinet isn’t as diverse as we might like. In addition, some of the folks who have been put in charge of Title IX enforcement have raised a SWE eyebrow or two.

Podcast: Swe’s Congressional Outreach

Of course, there have been some developments that SWE and its members might have supported over the last year.  The Adminsitration’s desire to increase investment in the defense industry likely directly affects a number of women engineers and the companies they work for in a positive way.  In addition, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum last September directing the Department of Education to invest at least $200 million annually in STEM and computer science, with a significant emphasis on investments that encourage interest and success in STEM fields among girls and underrepresented populations.  Ivanka Trump had been an ally on child care tax credit and other family-friendly issues as well. Karen Horting and I had a White House meeting earlier this year to discuss some of SWE’s partnerships and programs that align with their goals and we’re hopeful for more. But, we miss the White House Science Fair, as well as the annual Summit on Women.  And, the Office of Science and Technology Policy that was so important under the last Administration is barely up and running. There’s room for improvement there, and we’re hopeful it comes.

This year we saw the House approval of a bill that encourages diversity in STEM and more opportunities at federal agencies for women. Diversity in STEM faculty, career and technical education and the Higher Education Act are among the other issues that are also being talked about.  And staff are calling on SWE for input.  That’s good news for the organization. 

Podcast: Swe’s Congressional Outreach
Della Cronnin speaks at SWE’s Congressional Outreach event in Washington, DC in March 2017.

The theme of SWE’s Congressional Outreach Day is “Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM.” Tell us more about the event.

Della: The two-day event will take place on March 14 and 15 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 14th, 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.

How do you view the current climate in Washington for these efforts?

Podcast: Swe’s Congressional Outreach
SWE members take a selfie outside the U.S. Capitol Building in March 2017.

Della: There are new members on Capitol Hill who care about STEM education and are talking about it and the opportunity it brings. There are also several ongoing policy debates that affect the issues SWE cares about.  The Higher Education Act is being debated. As are budgets for research agencies. And how to best implement the K-12 education law that SWE helped mold in 2015. An ongoing presence in DC helps SWE identify these friends, as does participation in coalitions.  As does SWE’s Congressional  Outreach Day.  SWE will work with this Congress and the administration 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.

Tell us about SWE’s Legislative Action Center.

Della: 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. In fact, this year, we’ll be tailoring a message for folks who can’t come to Capitol Hill themselves to send to their elected representatives.  We think that can amplify the efforts of those who do come to Washington and can help establish relationships between SWE members and the folks who develop the policies that affect them. We think it would be great if SWE members set 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.

SWE also has resources for members to learn more about advocacy?

Della: Through the Advocacy section SWE’s All Together blog, SWE regularly posts recent public policy updates that are relevant to SWE Membership and women in engineering. This past year, we’ve regularly covered the changes to the FY18 federal budget, Title IX issues, and funding for STEM education and research.

Leading up to our event in DC, we are doing a blog series highlighting different SWE Advocates who have attended our DC event and bring back the skills and resources learned their to advocate for women in their every day lives.

SWE Members can also sign-up for occasional text alerts to stay informed about public policy updates. Text SWE Public Policy to 56512 to sign-up.

SWE also has Advocacy Education Modules to introduce Members to the process?

The SWE Advocacy 101 and Advocacy 201 online education modules help SWE members learn how to vocalize their passions and share their support of SWE in their community. SWE is working on a refresh of these modules for FY19. 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. Both modules can be viewed in the Advocacy SWE’s new and improved Advance Learning Center, which is housed under the Learning tab on swe.org.

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.   

What else?

Well, if you haven’t already heard, I’d like to mention that there have been a record-breaking number of women interested in elected office this year. As of January, 390 women were planning to run for the US House of Representatives in the November elections (or the primaries running up to them). That’s a figure that’s higher than at any point in American history. Twenty-two of them are non-incumbent black women — for scale, there are only 18 black women in the House right now. Meanwhile, 49 women are likely to be running for the Senate, more than 68 percent higher than the number who’d announced at the same point in 2014.

This should be celebrated!  Women are not represented in the numbers they should be on Capitol Hill and more of them is good for everyone. 


Della, thank you so much for joining us.

Della Cronin is a principal at Bose Washington Partners. Della works with her colleagues on K-12 and higher education issues and manages the firm’s STEM education work.

Della, thanks for participating in SWE’s Diverse podcast series.

And for all of us at SWE, thanks for listening.

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