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WE20: Practicing Curiosity

In its first-ever virtual annual conference, the Society of Women Engineers brought together a record 18,825 women engineers, collegians, and stakeholders for two weeks of professional development, networking, and celebration.
We20: Practicing Curiosity

we20: practicing curiosity

As COVID-19 persisted in 2020, organizations across the globe were forced to postpone, cancel, or rethink conferences and other large events. SWE chose to do the latter, and the results surpassed expectations.

Reimagining WE20 as a virtual conference meant converting in-person events and activities into experiences attendees could take part in from the comfort of their homes or offices — while feeling connected to something much larger.

To avoid digital fatigue, the conference was extended to three weeks, including one week for SWE business meetings, and offered myriad opportunities for attendees to “practice curiosity.” These included four keynotes; five mega sessions; workshops and panels; a networking lounge; and a virtual career fair that boasted some 2,800 recruiters/exhibitors — and much more.

we20: practicing curiosity
FY21 SWE President Heather Doty introduced keynote speakers and facilitated Q&A sessions following the presentations.

Sessions were presented as live, semi-live, or on-demand. The ability to “chat” in the live and semi-live sessions proved a popular and effective means for attendees to network and share tips and support. By the end of the conference, WE20 sessions had garnered 71,000 views.

For attendees looking for a break from sessions and meetings, WE20 offered a scavenger hunt; a leaderboard challenge in which attendees accumulated points by visiting various areas of the conference; a virtual photo booth; plus daily yoga and meditation.

In her opening keynote, Laura Maxwell, senior vice president of supply chain for PepsiCo Foods North America, discussed how women engineers can overcome self-doubt and learn to take risks. Drawing from her experiences in boxing, which she described as a “journey of self-discovery,” Maxwell encouraged her audience to trust their capabilities, practice curiosity, take risks, and “smash that self-doubt — better yet, give it a knockout.”

In this year’s State of Women in Engineering event, Michelle Brown, COO for Pinsight, shared findings from Pinsight’s 2020 report “Repairing the Broken Rung: Overcoming Bias in the Leadership Pipeline.” Brown’s presentation expanded on research shared in SWE Magazine’s State of Women in Engineering 2020 issue.

A virtual tour of the SWE archives gave viewers a glimpse into the Society’s massive collection of historical records and artifacts. SWE Archivist Troy Eller English led the tour, highlighting stories and objects such as footage of SWE’s founding meeting and artifacts that have flown in space with a SWE senior member and Achievement Award recipient. The archives are housed in the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. 

Since 2015, SWE Magazine has celebrated the contributions of women engineers through its presentation of Women Engineers You Should Know. Each year, the women selected for this recognition are nominated through SWE’s social media channels and are featured in the spring issue of the magazine. Through a virtual mosaic that includes photos and brief biographies, WE20 showcased the group of women who were chosen for this tribute in 2020. The mosaic can be viewed at

This year’s SWE Achievement Award recipient, Jayshree Seth, Ph.D., was recognized for “visionary, sustainability-focused contributions to adhesives, release, and fastener technologies; for creating, championing, and teaching new methodologies for product and technology development; and for deeply influential STEM advocacy.”

In her acceptance remarks, Dr. Seth recalled her childhood, when she didn’t think of herself as the “science and engineering type.” She described her journey from a little girl in India who “just wanted to help people and improve lives and make the world a better place ” to her current role as corporate scientist and chief science advocate for the 3M Company. Dr. Seth’s printed acceptance remarks appear in this section of SWE Magazine. To view a video of Dr. Seth delivering her address, please visit

All content on the virtual event platform will be available for one year following WE20, giving attendees the option to view sessions and events at their leisure.

Celebrating the 2020 SWE Award Recipients

we20: practicing curiosityIn lieu of a formal banquet, recipients of various awards were announced during each of the keynote sessions. A virtual Awards Hall showcased photos of individual and team recipients displaying their awards. The format allowed visitors to leave comments and send congratulatory notes to the recipients. The Awards Hall has received more than 8,100 visitors and more than 2,700 comments and notes of congratulation for the recipients. To view the Awards Hall, please visit

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  • swe magazine

    SWE Magazine