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Reinvention: Reinventing Your SWE Section During 2020-2021

One of the many challenges faced by our SWE members is how to “reinvent” the way in which sections stay connected with their members with regard to professional development, social interaction, and outreach. We reached out to our members and discovered many ingenious ways the sections are staying engaged and connected during these challenging times.
A New Version Of Our Conference Tradition

A few years ago, SWE Magazine added “Reinvention” — a column focused on how women were making changes to their careers, work/life balance, and family and social lives. Little did we expect to have such a plethora of topics to cover as we have in 2020, as we are reinventing nearly everything we are doing on a daily basis, including how to keep SWE members connected to their sections and one another. 

Professional development activities are perhaps the easiest to accomplish in a virtual manner, thanks to Zoom, Facebook chat rooms, and software that allows for group meetings. This was evident most recently during WE20, SWE’s first-ever virtual annual conference. Numerous live and prerecorded sessions were offered to attendees, including Q&A sessions, a variety of professional networking events, and keynote talks. The SWE San Diego Section offered a WE20 live watch party for the session “Sorry, Not Sorry: Speak with Intention in the Workplace.”

Offering so many sessions recorded and available for viewing on demand is a great way to engage members. Many sections reported holding virtual book club events by selecting a book to read and review, providing a link to purchase the book in whatever form a member prefers, and then coming together virtually to discuss different chapters, key messages, or, if available, a list of talking points. TED talks can also be viewed with a lower time and financial investment. SWE Orange County held two Zoom sessions to allow members to “Ask a Manager” and “Ask a Recruiter,” encouraging members to interact and help one another understand a variety of workplace and interviewing topics. They also hosted a Q&A session on professional licensure to allow professionals and collegians to discuss the reasons to obtain a PE license. 

Outreach activities have been a bit more challenging, and many sections have engaged with local Girl Scout groups for assistance in marketing and sign-ups for virtual events. Online mentoring of collegiate sections/members and SWENext groups is accomplished more easily either one-on-one or with a group. Again, technology comes to the rescue with Zoom “rooms” and other small group discussion areas. The Hawaiian Islands Section held a virtual auction and marketplace featuring one-of-a-kind items from artists and makers to raise funds for the Mae Nakatani Nishioka Scholarship Fund. Arizona State University’s SWE section has started a national, online tutoring initiative to help educate K-12 students learning from home, and other SWE sections, including SWE Boston, have joined them in this effort.

Perhaps the most-needed interactions this year were social. We all longed for more personal contact, and sections responded with a variety of fun activities and events. Southern New Jersey was challenged in its first year as a section and succeeded with a team trivia night. The participants broke into Zoom rooms to answer questions based on women’s suffrage and SWE history. SWE swag was mailed to the winners and a door prize was offered. The Dallas SWE Section hosted virtual yoga (as did the WE20 conference), a networking “bruncheon,” and a Halloween pumpkin-carving social, all virtually.

Ice breakers are also great ways to include everyone in a virtual environment, asking each attendee to introduce themselves, their company and position, their background, and a fun question about themselves (e.g., what is your favorite ice cream/pizza topping/hobby/etc.). Encouraging each person to then “pass” the turn to someone by name avoids the awkward silence or mass of people talking at once. During a networking session at WE20, everyone was asked to turn their microphones on until they introduced themselves and passed their turns. Then, by muting themselves, everyone was aware of who had yet to be introduced. The Chicago Regional Section hosted a virtual holiday cocktail-making party in December. By RSVPing, attendees received a link to the meeting and a list of recipes so they can get everything needed before the party. A collegiate section was reported to have developed a virtual escape room for members to participate in. Watch for more information in the All Together blog. In February, the Orange County Section will host its virtual Galentine’s Day Paint Night. Through the platform Painting to Gogh, attendees can all order the same painting kit, watch the tutorial together, and then paint along with one another.

These challenging times have forced all of us to find creative ways to stay in touch and stay connected with our SWEsters. Recently, four of us who normally meet for breakfast on the last day of the WE conference instead met in a Facebook room and chatted informally, sharing personal challenges, holiday plans, company policies and how they have changed in 2020, and simply let one another know we miss seeing the others and promising to get together virtually more often.

We may all be tired of Zoom meetings and the like, but maintaining these personal connections is vital to our health and well-being. So keep on being creative with your activities, and we hope this article gives you a few ideas for your section to remain connected. As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Author(s) Information

  • Reinvention: Reinventing Your SWE Section During 2020-2021

    Mary C. Verstraete, Ph.D., F.SWE

    Mary C. Verstraete, Ph.D., F.SWE, is an associate professor emeritus of biomedical engineering at The University of Akron. She is chair of the SWE editorial board, was named SWE’s Distinguished Engineering Educator in 2007, received the Society’s Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award in 2011, and became a SWE Fellow in 2016.