WE18 Recap

Attendees of WE18 enjoyed a taste of Minneapolis as the Society of Women Engineers welcomed more than 14,000 women and men from 35 countries to its annual event.
WE18 Recap

Opportunities for personal and professional development, networking, and fun were in abundance at the 2018 Society of Women Engineers’ annual conference in October. WE18 offered more than 300 professional development sessions; three keynote presentations; a career fair featuring 365 exhibitors; live podcasts; locations designated for meetups with friends, colleagues, and others; collegiate competitions; and a host of other events and gatherings designed to enhance the conference experience. In addition, SWE recognized 65 women and men for their accomplishments in engineering.

The conference commenced in spirited fashion, as attendees were invited to a Wednesday night ice cream social in the Minneapolis Convention Center ballroom. In addition to networking, music, and remarks from sponsors, the lively function included giant board games, including checkers, Jenga®, and Scrabble®, as well as karaoke.

Key lessons and insights

Sharing key lessons that have helped her advance in her career, Cindy Kent, former president and general manager of 3M’s Infection Prevention Division, and the 2013 recipient of the SWE Suzanne Jenniches Upward Mobility Award, provided the opening keynote. Kent’s riveting and inspiring presentation touched on breaking boundaries and gave the audience a glimpse into her life as a child growing up in the 1960s in the segregated South. Speaking of her parents’ determination that she have a sense of identity and a good education, Kent said, “One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was the gift of my own voice.” Following the keynote, SWE President Penny Wirsing, F.SWE, joined Kent onstage to answer audience questions posed via Twitter. In a new event, Marillyn Hewson, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation, delivered a Friday morning keynote.

Now in its third year, the “State of Women in Engineering” brought together experts who examined current research on the status of women in the profession. Framing the discussion were the authors of SWE’s annual literature review; Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., SWE’s manager of research; and Laura Ettinger, Ph.D., of Clarkson University, whose research on women engineers who came of age in the 1970s includes many SWE members. Alice Merner Agogino, Ph.D., mechanical engineering professor and education director at the University of California, Berkeley, joined the panel to discuss the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,” which she co-authored.

Building on its efforts to increase the number of women in positions of academic leadership in engineering, SWE again invited engineering early faculty, postdoctoral professionals, and graduate students to attend the Academic Leadership for Women in Engineering (ALWE) program at WE18. The three-day, invitation-only program provides hands-on training to help women build the necessary skills to advance in academia.

Cindy Kent, former president and general manager of 3M's infection Prevention Division, gave an inspiring keynote address on Thursday morning, setting a dynamic tone for the day. 

Gathering places

Initially serving as a hub for conference-goers to connect, the Spark Center sported a refreshed look and purpose. Exploring the area, attendees could learn about SWE’s program offerings, watch live podcast recordings with featured speakers, discuss mentorship with industry representatives, and more — and leave with a complimentary manicure or personally made luggage tag. In addition, a graffiti wall was set up in the Spark Center for attendees to sign and leave their impressions of the conference, SWE, or whatever else they wished to share.

Once again, the current group of Women Engineers You Should Know were recognized with digital signage and, for the first time, had a chance to meet and greet one another at the Spark Center.

The Pathfinders Lounge returned to the conference as a place for seasoned engineers and retired members to socialize, network, and discuss topics of interest in an informal setting.

Friday evening’s banquet provided a formal setting to honor the achievements of SWE’s major award recipients. Capping the event was this year’s Achievement Award recipient, Jacqueline Chen, Ph.D., a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories. The daughter of first-generation immigrants from China who came to the U.S. in hopes of establishing a better life for their future family, Dr. Chen described her path from her formative years in Athens, Ohio, to her position as a prominent researcher at Sandia. The full transcript of Dr. Chen’s speech appears in this special section.

Nearly 960 girls and adult advocates, along with more than 500 volunteers, took part in this year’s “Invent It. Build It.” SWE’s signature outreach introduces girls to engineering through hands-on projects alongside real engineers. While the girls program is the main event of the day, IIBI also offers a program for parents and educators, as well as an expo, all designed to provide information about an engineering education.

Bringing the conference to a close Saturday night, “Celebrate SWE!” provided the backdrop to recognize the accomplishments of individual SWE members, sections, teams, and others. Kim Underhill, president of the Kimberly-Clark Professional business unit, delivered the closing keynote. A post-awards after-party gave attendees an opportunity to relax, mingle, and end WE18 on a high note.

"Invent It. Build It.," SWE's signature outreach event, once again introduced girls to engineering through hands-on projects alongside real engineers.