Podcast: Everything WE18 First-Timers Need to Know

FY19 SWE President Penny Wirsing talks with FY17 SWE President Jessica Rannow about tips and advice for First-Timers at WE18, the Annual Conference of the Society of Women Engineers.
Let's Break Boundaries at WE18


Welcome to Diverse: The podcast of the Society of Women Engineers. SWE supports the advancement of women in engineering and technology. You can find all of our podcasts on SoundCloud and iTunes.

(Penny)

Hi, I’m Penny Wirsing, FY19 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 to talk about WE18, the Annual Conference of the Society of Women Engineers, is Jessica Rannow, SWE’s FY17 President.

Thanks for joining us Jessica.

(Jessica)
Hi, thanks for having me today.

(Penny)
Jessica, you’ve been to a lot of WE Conferences.  How many is it now, and why do you go every year?

(Jessica)
I think this will be my 20th. I know I’ve been going since I was in college. I’ve only missed two since 1997.

(Penny)
Wow, that’s a lot. Why do you go every year?

(Jessica)
Well, that’s really changed for me over the years. When I was in college, I went because SWE has the most amazing Career Fair. It even keeps growing. Also, there’s a lot of great sessions. It’s a chance for me to catch up with all my SWE friends that I’ve met over the years. It’s just an amazing event. It’s the world’s largest event for women engineers. Last year there was what? 14,000 attendees.

(Penny)
Yes, isn’t that incredible?

(Jessica)
I think the first one I went to had maybe 3,000 people.

(Penny)
They all have something different for different people. You mentioned some really great reasons. Who doesn’t love a great Career Fair or networking? I still remember the absolute awe I felt the first time I went to a conference.

We should tell everyone that this year’s conference is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 18-20, 2018. The site to register is we18.swe.org, and SWE members get a discounted registration.

As you mentioned Jessica, we are expecting more than 14,000 women engineers. That was the record we broke last year in Austin. I can tell you it is incredibly impressive to be among 14,000 women engineers. It’s a lot of energy.

What’s the first thing first-timers should know attending the conference?

(Jessica)
I think it’s important to know you need to register ahead of time. Register soon if you want to do things like technical tours or professional development sessions because those will a lot of times sell out. I think a few of them may be sold out already. And if you want to go to any ticketed events like Celebrate SWE! or the Awards Banquet or for our collegiate members the Collegiate Leadership Luncheon.

One of the fun things about conference if you come earlier in the day and you’re there for Wednesday night, October 17, you get to come to the Ice Cream Social which is always a fun kickoff to conference. This year there’s going to be a DJ and they’re going to have giant games like Giant Connect4 and Giant Checkers that we can plan and you get some tasty ice cream.

(Penny)
And it’s a great networking opportunity. What other big events and food events are there?

(Jessica)
On Thursday morning, October 18th, at 8:00 am, there’s going to be the Keynote Opening Breakfast. We’ll have some breakfast and Cindy Kent is going to be our Keynote Speaker. That’s free this year. That’s something that’s changed. There’s also a Welcome Luncheon for Collegiates on Thursday. Lots of Hospitality Suites that night. It’s a great chance to meet companies, the ones that host those hospitality suites, to meet them in a more informal setting. They usually have some great food spreads, but if you’re really interested in finding a new career at SWE conference, it’s an excellent opportunity. Friday night October 19this the Awards Banquet which is ticketed. It’s my favorite thing to go to at conference every year because we get to celebrate all of the fabulous things our SWE members do. Then, Saturday night is another Awards Banquet. I love awards so to me those are the highlights of conference seeing people get celebrated, and that one is called Celebrate SWE! Kim Underhill of Kimberly-Clark is the Keynote Speaker for that.

(Penny)
Wow, there are a lot of great events, a lot of great opportunities to see our SWE members being recognized for the wonderful things we’re doing around the world. I will mention our other Keynote Speaker is Marillyn Hewson who is the CEO of Lockheed Martin. She’s speaking Friday morning, October 19that 8:30, so keynotes are great. So are the other things we have like Mega Sessions, Plenaries, Lightning Talks. Do you want to say a few things about those?

(Jessica)
Yeah, we have some outstanding sessions. Plenaries are large panel sessions about many different topics: women in leadership, men as diversity partners. If you are between sessions, or you’re going to meet someone and you find you have 15-20 minutes, popping into a Lightning Session is good. They are 15-minute interactive sessions on a variety of topics.

One thing to remember before you go to conference is to download the WE18 App. In the WE18 App, you can find the entire schedule. If things change, it gets updated constantly. Then you can have where all of the rooms are and what sessions are happening when in your pocket. So, if you suddenly have a break you weren’t expecting you can pop into something by just looking at it. The schedule is also online so you can find a link to the app along with the online planner on the WE18 site which is we18.swe.org.

(Penny)
Those are all great resources and I really appreciate the app because like you said sometimes you get done a few minutes early, and you find yourself with a few extra minutes, and it’s great to be able to just quickly look and see what’s available. It also allows for real-time changes. If a speaker changes, or a room changes, you have it right there at your fingertips, so it’s great.

The tools that you mentioned help attendees choose among literally hundreds of professional development session that we have in 11 different tracks. All of these can also be found at the WE18.swe.org website. Do you want to say something about some of the different tracks that we have this year?

(Jessica)
Yeah, you know SWE conference keeps growing as we have more people attending, we keep adding different tracks, so this year we have 11 different tracks. One being Advocating for Change. TheCareer Management and Life Transitions track is always popular. We have a special track for Entrepreneurship, either for people who are already entrepreneurs or if you are interested in exploring it. Supporting SWE’s mission we have a track on Inclusion and Cultural Awareness. A newer track is called Innovation and Disruption. We have a K-12 Outreach track which is always popular to learn more about how you can do outreach with students. STEM Re-entry is a new program that SWE started a few years ago that supports women that are reentering the workforce from a career break whether it was for family care or whatever reason someone took a career break, our STEM Re-entry program allows women to have a returnship to go back and practice at a company. So, they’re going to have a track at conference this year so you can learn more about that.

Strategic Leadership is one of our most popular categories, great professional development there. SWE Leadership: if you are a SWE leader or want to be a SWE leader, there’s a lot of different things you can learn about how to make your section better or create new programs. We also have two specialized tracks for Women in Academia and Women in Government and Military.

(Penny)
There are some great ones there. Women in Academia is great if you are considering grad school. One of my favorite recent additions is the Innovation and Disruption focusing on technology and the changing business landscape, sharing new trends in business…a lot of different topics to appeal to appeal to our 14,000+ attendees. Very cool.

How about the Career Fair? What should our First-Timers know about the Career Fair?

(Jessica)
The Career Fair is like nothing you’ve ever seen before if you haven’t been to SWE conference. There’s more than 300 organizations from industry, but there’s also academia organizations if you are considering grad school and the nonprofit world there exhibiting in our big hall. It’s a great opportunity to find a new job or just find out about different companies or if you are interested in getting an advanced degree.

My hint for conference is wear comfortable shoes. To get around all those 300 booths, it’s a lot of walking. If you walk around that in heels, you’ll be hobbling by the end of the day, so wear comfortable shoes.

(Penny)
I’ve definitely seen some folks hobbling. If you are looking for a job, the Career Fair is a great place to go. Remember, it is business attire because you are potentially going to be interviewing. If you are planning to interview, you need to do your homework ahead of time, know who’s hiring in your major, bring resumes, all of those things you would normally do in an interview to make sure that you present a professional image. Hopefully, you will be successful in getting an interview and getting a job offer. There have been many, many SWE members that have had success at our Career Fair in the past.

(Jessica)
So, one other thing to remember, if you are interesting in interviewing while you are at conference, make sure you upload your resume to SWE’s Career Center before you go to conference. A lot of companies, they’ll look through those resumes in the database ahead of time and people will come to conference with interviews already scheduled. So that’s a great tip. Utilize SWE’s Career website, which is careers.swe.org, ahead of time to get you a jump on interview slots before you even arrive.

(Penny)
Great suggestion. Let’s see there’s also the Spark Center.

(Jessica)
I consider the Spark Center the epicenter of conference. A lot of times you end up meeting people. It’s SWE’s booth, so if you have SWE questions about social media, scholarships, events, your membership, you can go to the Spark Center. Usually, you can make something fun. In the past, we’ve had buttons and luggage tags with SWE logos on them. We’ve had a coloring wall in the past. It’s always interesting to see what our SWE Marketing Team comes up with that’s a fun way to celebrate SWE.

(Penny)
Fabulous. Let’s see if you are interested in outreach, there’s also something for our attendees. They can volunteer for Invent it. Build it.

(Jessica)
Invent it. Build it. is such a great addition to SWE conference. It’s a hands-on engineering experience for middle school and high school girls. There’s also a Parent Educator Program (PEP) associated with it too. It’s held on Saturday, October 20th. Volunteers are needed throughout conference to help set it up the days before the event, then volunteers the day of the event. In the past, we’ve had over 1,000 attendees, so we need a lot of volunteers. Another thing about volunteering is you can apply a discount to attending conference in the future if you volunteer. So, there’s also some benefits for you besides getting to see hundreds of girls learn about engineering or their parents and educators learn about engineering.

(Penny)
It is so great to see how excited several hundred middle school girls can get about engineering and especially seeing these women engineers as role models. Many of these girls may have never thought about women being engineers and it’s always fun to see them when they’re coming out at the end of the day. Their faces are just so lit up with the possibilities.

(Jessica)
And volunteers are both college students and professionals. I think that’s a misconception sometimes that college students think that they can’t volunteer.

(Penny)
And we do need a lot of volunteers, you’re right. We should mention ribbons. Ribbons are always popular.

(Jessica)
The big ribbon wall: It’s always fun to see all the different ribbons. That’s one of my favorite things to do. The first day of conference you register; you hit the ribbon bar up for lots of different things like if you’re a SWE president for your section, there’s a ribbon for that. There are so many things I can’t think of all of them right now.

(Penny)
One of my favorites is the First-Time attendee ribbon because it gives me a chance to talk to people and ask them what they think.

(Jessica)
Yeah, and I think it helps you stand out. When I attended my first conference as a professional, I went not really knowing anyone. When I went in college, I went with my section and I knew everyone. A few years later, when I went as a professional, I didn’t really know anyone and I didn’t have that ribbon but just having something that can start those conversations I think is really helpful.

(Penny)
Agreed. There’s also the Social Media Lounge. That’s a lot of fun.

(Jessica)
You can have fun pictures that post instantly and also sent to your email so everyone knows you're at SWE conference having a good time in Minneapolis. They’ll also have a place you can charge your devices. When you’re out all day at conference, a lot of times your batteries will start draining. It’s a good place to relax. Sometimes it’s nice with the Career Fair and so many things going on, sometimes it’s nice to just step back for a few minutes and relax.

(Penny)
There’s certainly something for everyone here. For new moms, there are new mother’s rooms. Child care is also available from KiddieCorp. So lots and lots of things to choose from. Do you have any other advice for First-Timers at WE18?

(Jessica)
Just go with an open mind and ready to explore and learn a lot of new things. Meet new people. Like I said before, wear comfortable shoes. As you said Penny, it’s professional attire, but make sure it’s also something comfortable. I’ve seen some outfits that didn’t look so comfortable as people were walking around and if you are going to be spending 10 hours in it, make sure it’s something that you can last the day in.

Make sure you have water. Convention centers get dry. There’s always the cool SWE water bottle. I have quite the collection of them that I love using year round but that’s great for conference to keep you hydrated.

It’s going to be an exciting year for you Penny, as SWE President, do you have any hints? I know you’ve attended a lot of conferences, too.

(Penny)
I have. I would say a couple of other ideas: Leave extra room in your luggage because there’s always a lot of swag at the Career Fair. You’ll want to have a little bit of room to take some of that home with you. Also, pack a sweater because it can be cool. While it’s going to be in Minneapolis, which might be cool anyway, inside the Convention Center it can be sometimes cool. Consider that when you are packing. Have a professional outfit for the Career Fair, a couple of casual outfits, a nice dress if you are going to one of the award ceremonies, and like you said comfortable shoes and lots of water. I would also say don’t forget to network. Networking is a great skill as you build your career and WE18 is great place to develop your network, your personal network, and start friendships that will last for years. I know I have so many contacts that I met at SWE conferences. I’m sure you have as well.

(Jessica)
We probably met at a SWE conference. I don’t remember, but I’m sure we did.

(Penny)
Well, thanks, Jessica. We presented a lot of information here. There is all this and more including links to some of the previous podcasts and other information at AllTogether.swe.org. The site to register is we18.swe.org.

Jessica Rannow was the FY17 President of SWE, and she’s attended 20 conferences or more. Jessica, thank you so much for joining us.

(Jessica)
Thanks, Penny.

(Penny)
For SWE, I’m Penny Wirsing, thanks for listening, and I look forward to seeing you in Minneapolis.

Thank you for listening to this podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. Please don’t forget to leave us a review on iTunes or like your favorite episodes on SoundCloud. If you have not already made plans to be part of the largest gathering of women engineers in the world, visit our WE18 conference site at we18.swe.org. Information on housing, registration, and keynote speakers is now available.