SWE has hundreds of 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 Rocky Mountain SWE Section, chartered in 1954. We spoke with FY22 President Christi Wisleder on their community outreach and learning to thrive in a virtual environment.
How did you become involved with the Rocky Mountain SWE Section?
I joined the SWE Rocky Mountain Section (RMS) as a corporate member. There was an open spot on the membership team, and when the corporate coordinator asked if I was interested, I said yes. I dabbled in participating in various RMS events and activities, and it was volunteering as the Scholarship Chair that rooted me in being an active participant and leader with RMS.
How does your community benefit from having a SWE Section?
RMS offers extensive programming to our community focused on K-12 outreach, professional development, and member events. With our signature outreach event Girls Exploring STEM, approximately 1,200 students from diverse backgrounds spend a day exploring STEM through workshops guided by volunteers. Being a premier resource for professional development events, RMS provides many opportunities to bring together professionals and collegians for networking and career development. RMS members get together to build connections through unique and fun membership events, such as the Virtual 5K, which helped members feel connected when they could not be together in person.
How did you adapt to leading your group virtually during the pandemic? Can you describe one of Rocky Mountain’s typical meetings or events?
RMS did more than just adapt to a virtual environment, RMS thrived. The Executive Council meetings continued on a regular basis with virtual meetings, and even the virtual strategic planning was a big success. Previously in person, local socials jumped to be online get-togethers, and members continued to connect via social media. Professional development events moved to a virtual format with many successful events including Women in Aerospace with Boom Supersonic, a partnered event with IEEE WIE on Emotional Intelligence, and the biggest turnout for a Spring Summit conference with 2 high-quality keynote speakers. While it took some time to reformat our large in-person outreach event to be virtual, GESTEM Virtual was a success.
Our Women in Industry events bring together women of a particular industry, such as Women in Aerospace, Women in Biotech, Women in Construction…. In a typical year, RMS partners with a local company to host the event and provide a speaker. The corporate partner provides a venue to host the event and appetizers. These events begin with open networking to allow attendees to meet each other and begin building connections. Then two or more speakers share their story associated with the industry topic. Attendees range from collegiates to retirees, members to nonmember, industry to outside industry, and local to out-of-state attendees. While RMS continues to vary the industry focus, we do acknowledge these events fill the void where professional organizations within specific industries that do not have a local presence.
What are some of Rocky Mountain’s recent successes and accomplishments?
In concurrence with our Spring Summit keynote speaker’s talk “Go Big or Go Home….”, RMS went big. We submitted and received SWE Mission Award Silver and three WE Local Awards: Outstanding Outreach Event for the 6th Grade Essay Contest; Outstanding Professional Development Event for premier networking and professional development programming of Professional Enrichment Tech Talks; and Outstanding Professional Development Event (awarded to event partner Medtronic) for the Women in Medical Devices partnered event.
After a couple attempts at redirecting our Women in Industry professional development events to virtual, we held a well attended event that even attracted a high school student. We awarded career coach Cheryl Benedict with our Rocky Mountain Summit Award for Superior Support for her guidance shared to RMS members on transitions during times of crisis.
Our Virtual Spring Summit conference with the theme Embrace Uncertainty: Find Your True North went big, and by embracing the virtual platform, we reached a wider audience, including out-of-state members from nearby sections who otherwise would not be able to attend the event. With two keynote speakers, opening remarks by SWE FY21 President Heather Doty, 8 breakout sessions, coffee networking, and a yoga session, RMS was on point with a post-event survey revealing 72% rated the event as “Excellent.”
What are your plans once in-person activities resume?
Moving forward, RMS is shifting back to largely in person events as acceptable, as our members are craving to see each other. We are also looking to strike the balance between in person and virtual, and we found the shift to virtual events to be very appealing to some members in our large geographic footprint. RMS also proved we are a flexible and adaptive organization, so we are ready for whatever is next.
Do you have advice for anyone looking to get involved with SWE?
SWE has something for everyone. It is easy to start small and try to find what aligns with your own passions. Be brave, choose something that may interest you, and join in to start connecting with some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. RMS has strong leadership and ever-growing opportunities to be involved, so you can learn a new skill or strengthen the skills you have. One feature that sets SWE apart from many organizations is that SWE is very supportive, inclusive, and welcoming.
For more information about the Rocky Mountain Section, please read the SWE-RMS Brochure.