SWE has over 300 collegiate Sections and Affiliates, all who strive to empower women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion. While these shared goals and values unite us, each SWE group also has an original story and unique point of view.
SWE HQ is excited to spotlight the University of Massachusetts Amherst SWE Section.
We spoke with their FY22 President Sophia Chang so we can get to know them and introduce their section to our SWE community.
How did you become involved with the UMass Amherst SWE Section?
I became involved through meeting some of the members at an event held during the beginning of my freshman year, where multiple engineering groups tabled in the engineering quad. The ladies running the table were very friendly and passionate about their club, which was really welcoming to see as a nervous freshman.
How does your school benefit from having a SWE Section?
My university benefits by having a SWE Section because in a field that is still largely male-dominated, it’s important that women in engineering know that there are both other women out there in the same fields they are, and that they can succeed with the support of a community around them. When women come to college to start an engineering major, they’re placed in pre-requisite courses and intro to engineering courses that are almost always mostly men. SWE offers a place for these freshmen to be themselves without feeling like they need to act a certain way to be in engineering, to learn skills in a way tailored to them, and to remind them that they do belong here.
How did you adapt to leading your group virtually during the pandemic?
Over the pandemic, we pivoted to Zoom-based activities–we held our monthly general body meetings through Zoom and played games through our phones in breakout rooms to socialize with other SWE members and destress from being in virtual classes all day. We also held monthly ‘Snacks with SWE’, where members could hang out on Zoom with members of our executive board, eat snacks, and chat about soft skills. It was important to us that we hold an online space without expectations–there were no mandatory attendances, expectations to put your cameras on, or talk too much. After being in Zoom class all day during the stress of a global pandemic, we wanted this to be as stress-free as possible while still providing structure and community.
What are some of UMass Amherst’s successes and accomplishments over the past year?
Even though attending yet another Zoom meeting after a day of staring at screens has been exhausting for a lot of people, after each meeting or event we held, I got feedback from attendees and members mentioning how nice it was to hang out virtually and spend time with other women in engineering. We collaborated with other diversity in STEM groups to hold virtual panels (one about racism in STEM and another about women in STEM), and both of those events had about a hundred attendees each. Having that much reach, even during a pandemic, made the hassle and stress of organizing it worth it, especially after hearing the discussion and questions those events had.
Can you describe one of your group’s typical meetings or events?
A typical (non-COVID) monthly general body meeting usually kicks off with a brief icebreaker to get everyone comfortable, then a quick slideshow runthrough of what SWE is and what events we have coming up that people might be interested in. After that, it depends on which month we’re holding the event! Usually we’ll split up into small groups to chat, network, and maybe play some games, but on the off-chance that it’s a meeting we traditionally do something specific, we do that! Every October we paint pumpkins and have apple cider donuts, we have a yearly movie night in January/February to welcome people back after winter break, and an ongoing ‘March Mudness’ event where we plant succulents to take home, among others.
How does your group stay connected over the summer break?
Over the summer break, we have a Slack server people chat in and send fun pictures of what they’re doing. We also have an Instagram that’s active year-round, doing internship highlights, ‘Meet the Member’ features, and promoting events.
Do you have advice for anyone looking to get involved with SWE?
If I had to give a single piece of advice for someone looking to get involved with SWE, I would say just do it! Just reach out and see what you can do, at any level of involvement you can sustain. Some people just get our newsletter, and that’s great! Some people only come to one or two meetings, and that’s great too! Some people show up for our community service events, or for the free snacks, or chat in our Slack, and all of that’s great! No matter what you want to do with SWE, or what you’re able or unable to do, there’s always going to be something you can do with SWE because above all, we’re not here for you to do stuff for us–we’re here to make sure you have that pillar, that community of support, at every step of your college career.
Check out the UMass Amherst SWE Section Instagram for inspiration as you plan events for your SWE Section or Affiliate this fall!