From San Diego to St. Louis: a SWENexter’s Experience Attending DesignLab

SWENexter and Community Engagement Challenge winner, Madalyn Nguyen, shares her experience attending SWENext DesignLab at WE Local St. Louis.
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Written by SWENexter Madalyn Nguyen

Freshman at Poway High School, PHS SWENext President and Co-founder, Inaugural year, SWENext Community Award, Recipient of DL Challenge Grant


I have been a member of SWENext since seventh grade but have never had an opportunity to participate at a SWENext event. In the Fall of 2018, a couple of my girlfriends from FIRST Robotics Competition Team Spyder introduced a chapter of SWENext to our high school. Our goal was to support all the girls on robotics and at the same time promote, inspire, and empower girls on campus and in the community to embrace STEM.

On March 1, 2019, I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri from San Diego, California to represent my team for the DesignLab Community Engagement Challenge at WE Local St. Louis. This was my first time attending a SWE event and I did not know what to expect. Initially, I was nervous checking in but soon found comfort in meeting like-minded young ladies during the icebreaker. It was amazing to be surrounded by strong empowering engineers.

Mary Isaac presents bias literacy at SWENext DesignLab.
Mary Isaac presents bias literacy at DesignLab.

Coincidentally, one of the mechanical engineers, Dr. Mary Isaac, actually lived in my area (San Diego County). It was pretty cool to travel all the way to the Midwest and to meet a fellow San Diegan. She was such an inspiration and role model as she gave the Bias Training. I learned so much about implicit and explicit bias. It is important to learn about societal stereotypes in order to promote gender diversity. I was very impressed with how much I learned.

Before we broke for lunch, all the girls had a chance to network with many types of engineers. We had a chance to talk to engineers about their experiences in high school and why they wanted to become engineers. I got to learn about the struggles of being a female in the STEM community and how to overcome them. The engineers talked about their path through college and finding jobs that led to their current careers. It was so inspiring to meet and witness firsthand experiences of professional engineers. I can see myself one day returning to a SWENext DesignLab to share my experience, too.

SWENexter Madalyn Nguyen presents at DesignLab
Madalyn Nguyen presents her community challenge solution at DesignLab.

By luck of the draw, I was the first team to present the proposal after lunch for the DesignLab Community Engagement Challenge. Interestingly, I was not as nervous as I had imagined. I presented my proposal within the mandatory time and was able to answer all the judges' questions. I was encouraged by all the SWENexters’ words of praise as I left the stage. It was at this moment that I realized the importance of participating in an organization where everyone is so positive and encouraging.

"It was at this moment that I realized the importance of participating in an organization where everyone is so positive and encouraging."

Immediately after presenting my proposal, I had to cut the day short and head to the airport to catch my flight home. We got the news of winning the grant as we were waiting at the airport.

I had an amazing time meeting with all the SWENexters at DesignLab. I am so grateful to win the grant so that my team and I can implement our proposed event, GIRLS in STEM Inspiration Day 2019. We were so honored to have Dr. Isaac participate on our engineer panel for the Inspiration Day. It was also such an honor to be the recipient of the SWENext Community Award. I cannot wait to attend another SWE event—WE19—in Anaheim, California next fall.