Stepping into the role of SWE president in July 2019, my goal was to keep changes to a minimum to allow the new governance updates from the previous few years take hold and grow. I was excited to see our senate become a group focused on the future strategy for the organization; the committees work together to drive the operations plan; the nominating committee continuing to find diverse and qualified candidates to lead the Society; and the board of directors working as a cohesive body with SWE headquarters staff to drive the vision and mission of SWE forward.
My theme for the year was “We Live. We Learn. We Lead.” I selected the theme to celebrate more than 30 years as a SWE member and leader, where I have made lifetime friends and grown from a young electrical engineering student at Wichita State University to an executive at Spirit AeroSystems. Along the way, I learned skills that made me a better manager and program leader. I also met some lifelong friends who help me celebrate key milestones in life and who do not let me fail when trying new adventures. As I have grown in my career and with SWE, I have also become a mentor and sponsor for many women along the way. It is one of my greatest satisfactions to help a SWE member find their next step in the organization or an employee move to the next level in their career. I look around the Society at those I have touched along the way and know that I have made a difference in their lives.
The first major event of my presidency was installation, which was held at the Doc Hangar, Education, and Visitors Center in Wichita, Kansas. A huge thank you to my company, Spirit AeroSystems, for hosting an unforgettable event and for supporting me during my years on the SWE board and as president. Installation was followed by an absolutely fantastic SWE annual conference in Anaheim, where a staggering and record-breaking 16,500 attendees gathered to Live, Learn, and Lead. The conference was a bit of a blur between meetings, podcasts, videos, introductions, fireside chats, and the career fair. However, I did have a chance to reconnect with old friends and meet some new ones, speak with our impressive array of keynote speakers, and enjoy the beautiful city of Anaheim.
Growth despite disruption
The WE Local conference season began in February, and I was able to attend the Salt Lake City and Raleigh conferences before the pandemic forced the board to make the difficult decision to suspend the balance of the WE Local events.
The board was in Washington, D.C., during our annual Congressional Visits Day, when President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. While many of our members were not able to travel or had to leave early, those of us remaining still had visits with our elected officials (socially distanced, no handshakes, and lots of antibacterial lotion)! We had an excellent reception where six officials stopped by to show their support and deliver remarks to the group.
It was a bit surreal to walk the halls of the congressional office buildings and hear an echo when you talked, because there was no one else around. SWE was one of the last groups to visit before everything shut down. Immediately following, the SWE headquarters staff — along with much of the nation — began working from home.
Many organizations have had to lay off or furlough staff, so I am very pleased that SWE staff was able to smoothly transition to working from home without missing a beat. We are an organization that topped 42,000 members during a pandemic and attracted 6,000 SWENext students! We quickly transitioned to virtual events, including book clubs, happy hours, and meetups. The work of the Society continued with the senate completing recommendations from three strategic subgroups, the bylaws committee completely transforming how we manage section bylaws, and the SWE affinity groups finding their voices.
In addition, the board of trustees, board of directors, and SWE headquarters formed a joint investment committee to watch over the reserve and HQ funds of the Society. While chaos reigned in the world, SWE adapted and displayed resiliency in moving our mission forward. I am so proud to lead a Society that has continued to advocate and make a real difference for women in engineering for more than seven decades.
While this wasn’t quite the year I envisioned when I began my term as SWE president, it was quite an amazing year. I want to thank the very impressive women who served on the FY20 board of directors for their dedication, hard work, and support during my term.
I also want to thank SWE executive director and CEO, Karen Horting, CAE, and the headquarters staff for showing how dedicated they are to SWE and what they can manage in a crisis. We are absolutely fortunate to have each of you supporting our SWE family.
Before signing off, I must thank my husband, Bryan, for his unending support during my year as president. He was a rock during the crazy week of the Anaheim conference and my other SWE events. My children, Jeremy, Marcus, and Cameron, have grown up with SWE and know how important it is to me. I know they will continue to be great advocates for both women in engineering and diversity and inclusion in STEM. Now it is time to look forward to my transition to SWE past president and the rest of my SWE journey.