SWE Advocate Profile: Irma Khan

Leading up to SWE’s Congressional Outreach Day in March, SWE will feature profiles of our members who act as advocates for fellow women in engineering.
SWE Advocate Profile: Irma Khan

SWE HQ: Tell us about yourself! What type of engineer are you and how have you been involved with SWE?

Irma Khan

In 2003 I graduated with an Engineering Management degree from the University of MO-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science & Technology). In my senior year, I was recruited by Caterpillar for their Marketing Training Class.  The Class was a mix of engineers and business majors and prepared us for technical field sales and product support roles. I spent the next eight years of my career ‘in the trenches’ with our dealers and customers. My engineering background provided the foundation I needed to understand the technical issues and tackle problems.  Currently I’m the Digital Region Manager in Caterpillar’s ACAM Distribution Services Division.

I joined SWE after returning from my field assignments in 2011. I quickly became actively involved in the Central Illinois Section, founding our Section’s first Advocacy Committee and then serving as Section Representative to the Region and then Section President. At the local level, I’ve been involved in advocacy, K-12 outreach, and professional development, all areas that are a passion of mine. Now I’m also involved at the Society level as a member of the Conference Advisory Board.  SWE has been such a positive experience for me!

SWE HQ: Why do you feel it is important to advocate for women in engineering and how do you personally advocate for this cause?

At the highest level I believe that women and the profession of engineering are a true match. The engineering field enables women to have not just a significant impact on the world, but a positive one. That’s what really resonates with me every day and why I chose to pursue engineering in the first place. Second, this field provides such an incredible foundation for women to pursue diverse career paths. An engineering degree opens the doors to so many possibilities, including technical and managerial opportunities. I advocate for women in engineering because it’s important for women to be actively seen and heard in this field and to serve as role models for future generations. We must advocate for women currently in engineering so we can have more women in engineering!

Most of my personal advocacy is through my section and Society level activities through SWE.  However, last year, after a visit to Caterpillar from SWE CEO Karen Horting, I and several other advocates spearheaded the establishment of the Caterpillar & SWE Strategy Committee. Caterpillar is a Corporate Partnership Council (CPC) member and this Committee aims to fully leverage our relationship and opportunities with SWE.

SWE HQ: How has attending SWE’s Congressional Outreach Day in the past helped you be a better advocate?

The first step in advocacy is to be better informed about the issues. The day before the actual congressional visits, we receive in-depth training. Participants are briefed on the relevant legislative issues. We hear from a panel of experts from multiple federal agencies. We also learn tips on how to engage with the elected officials and their staff.  There are so many opportunities to advocate in the area of STEM, from funding to education to diversity. Being informed on the issues helped me to see where and how I could make the biggest positive impact.

Of course the advocacy doesn’t just stop the following day with the visit. It’s just starting. You meet with the staff of the legislators and can remain in contact with them as new issues and developments arise.  The on-going communication is critical in becoming a better advocate.

SWE HQ: If someone is new to public advocacy, what are some of the first steps you would recommend they take?

For learning, a good starting point would be the public policy modules on SWE’s Advance Learning Center. The Advocacy section on SWE’s All Together blog is great for keeping up with the issues.

In terms of scope, I think an important starting point for public advocacy would be at the local level, where you may know the most about the issues and feel passionate about taking action! Participating in SWE’s Congressional Outreach Day helps you to become a better local advocate as well. A lot of the learning and issues are transferrable.

What to become involved in Public Policy & Advocacy at SWE? Check out the following opportunities and resources:

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    SWE Blog provides up-to-date information and news about the Society and how our members are making a difference every day. You’ll find stories about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics.

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