My name is Lainey Rogers. As a senior, I have spent the majority of my college experience involved with the Society of Women Engineers at UT Dallas. I served on our team’s Industry Committee and spent a year in the SWEMatch Program. However, I took a hiatus from my involvement to spend a semester interning and studying public policy in Washington, D.C.
I aimed to merge my interest in politics with my passion for STEM by working with Bose Public Affairs Group. Their work centers around advocating for clients within the STEM Education sphere, including the Society of Women Engineers.
It felt surreal to transition from my collegiate SWE section to participating in calls with SWE’s leadership. When offered the opportunity to join SWE’s advocacy team at the Capitol to discuss the future of STEM education and the STEM workforce, I was thrilled.
On an idyllic Thursday in October, I took to Capitol Hill with SWE’s Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting and Bose’s Washington Representative Della Cronin to meet with House and Senate leaders of the Women in STEM Caucuses and discuss a number of concerns, including the STEM RESTART Act.
The STEM Restoring Employment Skills Through Targeted Assistance, Re-Entry, and Training (RESTART) Act has been introduced in the last several Congresses. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation is championed by Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and former astronaut Senator Mark Kelley (D-AZ), along with Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Jim Baird (R-IN).
The Act aims to provide “small and medium-sized businesses with funding for robust, paid, mid-career internships, known as ‘returnships,’ for workers looking to return to work or transition to a new STEM career, with priority for underrepresented populations and rural areas.”
SWE has a profound understanding of workforce reentry, having pioneered its own program entitled the STEM Reentry Task Force. Through this initiative, SWE empowers women to rediscover their STEM careers, irrespective of the duration they’ve been out of the workforce.
Over the past four years, 32 companies have joined the Task Force, 24 have launched their own programs, and over 600 returning technical professionals have participated ― resulting in an 86% hire rate. Notably, one woman participated in SWE’s Reentry Task Force after taking a 20-year break from her tech job.
Listening to SWE’s CEO share personal anecdotes about the impact of these programs helped me visualize a bridge between individual lives and federal efforts, which often feel disconnected. It was inspiring to witness policymakers taking to heart the interests of an organization that I have continuously been empowered by.
We had meetings throughout the day and criss-crossed the Hill multiple times. While the STEM RESTART Act was top of mind, we also talked about the importance of supporting early exposure to STEM fields in K-12 education, the need for a more diverse STEM teaching workforce, how crucial it is to invest in minority-serving colleges and universities that produce an astonishing number of STEM graduates and educators, and how troubling some Republican proposals to cut federal spending in education and at the research agencies are. Each meeting was different, but everyone at the meetings cared deeply about the issues discussed.
It’s no secret that the current Congress has found it challenging to produce comprehensive legislation on any topic. Divided government slows such efforts, and the 118th Congress has only passed 22 laws as it approaches its halfway mark (the last Congress passed 362 laws). Regardless, my experience in Washington, D.C., has shown me the importance and value of consistent and persistent advocacy, and I’m glad that an organization I belong to embraces it.