When Rishelle Wimmer moved to Salzburg, Austria, she noticed a lack of extra-curricular culture in schools and universities. Collegiates were earning bachelor’s degrees in three years, rather than four, and with such a heavy course load, there wasn’t time for much else. This lack of a social support system presented another road block for women studying engineering in a male-dominated industry.
“One of my greatest challenges is to get students actively involved,” Wimmer explained. “The number of women students is small and in general our students have not grown-up with a club mentality, although the idea of networking is quite popular. As a university we’re actively working to attract more women to choose engineering as a degree program and future career. And we want them to recognize SWE as a support system on that journey.”
Wimmer is a senior lecturer in information technology and systems management at Fachhochschule Salzburg University of Applied Sciences. She studied systems analysis and operations research engineering at Cornell University and is currently the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences Society of Women Engineers Faculty Advisor.
“My first experiences with SWE was as a university student. I wasn’t very active, but I was aware of it and would go to various events,” said Wimmer. “When I got to Salzburg, I recognized SWE as a great opportunity for Austria. The percentage of women in engineering and women studying engineering here remains stable. Sometimes initiatives for women in technology have been started, but they often lose steam. SWE is a sustainable model because of its history, size and international scope – this makes a lasting impression.”
Wimmer has two objectives as a SWE Affiliate in Austria – to provide a welcoming and comfortable environment for female engineers, and to connect women engineers with companies who are hiring and expanding diversity in Austria.
“Making the transition from university to the engineering workforce can be daunting. I want to find ways to support my students through the process,” explained Wimmer. “With SWE, I can provide a networking system to connect women and bring more women into engineering.”
Wimmer is partnered with over 30 engineering firms through her affiliation with Salzburg University of Applied Sciences for the purpose of research studies. This can be a win-win for both the companies and Wimmer’s students.
“With SWE, we’re able to provide a platform for students and professionals to connect through networking and professional development opportunities. This gives us the ability to show students what it’s like to be a woman in the professional workforce.”
Wimmer also wants to help companies in Austria to create a more inclusive workforce and reach diversity goals.
“I would like to help our partners, businesses and companies foster a work culture that is inclusive and fair and enables women to reach their goals in engineering,” she explained. “With SWE, we can help identify what kind of training, support and professional development organizations need, to get more women in their workforce. When you have a culture that is 80 -90 percent male, there are small things you need to watch out for – like making sure there is a women’s restroom on every floor.”
Wimmer introduced SWE to her students in 2016 and officially registered as an Affiliate in July 2017. The Salzburg Affiliate is the first representation of SWE in Austria, and the fourth European Affiliate. There are about 15 active students involved in the Affiliate, taking advantage of programs such as job shadowing and alumni networking.
“We’re building momentum…companies are very interested in finding engineers in our areas – especially women engineers. They’re very happy to broaden their diversity.”
Women who join the Salzburg SWE Affiliatebenefit from an opportunity to meet like-minded students and connect with women professionals who already have engineering and workforce experience. Women affiliated with SWE can find out about opportunities, such as scholarships and internships that they can apply for. They can get in touch with players in the field and build social skills.
“Whenever we meet, whether at an informal get-together or a larger public event for students and professionals, it’s a unique experience –almost a culture shock – to find ourselves as part of a majority when you’ve gotten so use to being one of the only women in the room.”
In addition to leading the Salzburg SWE Affiliate, Wimmer is on the board of Ditact, a summer school for women that furthers instruction for development in information technology and digital technologies. Wimmer will be on the podium during this summer’s opening program, where she’ll be speaking to participants about SWE.
You can find more information about SWE Global Affiliates and Ambassadors, including a list of regions and countries represented, by visiting swe.org/international-member.
About SWE Global Affiliates
A SWE Global Affiliate is a community of women engineers, both SWE members and non-members, who reside outside the U.S. and wish to function as a recognized SWE entity in order to expand the mission of the organization.
About the SWE Global Ambassador Program
The SWE Global Ambassador program provides the opportunity for paid SWE members to serve in a leadership position that affects their city, country, global region and the Society. Ambassadors promote the SWE brand, recruit SWE members and provide representation of SWE products and services available to members in your area. Those seeking to become a Global Ambassador can apply for the position until August 9, 2018.