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Developing the Leader Within Me Through ALWE

Dr. Jessica Ventura reflects on her experiences in SWE’s FY24 Academic Leadership for Women in Engineering (ALWE) Program.
Developing the Leader Within Me Through ALWE

I have never been one to aspire to positions of leadership, but anyone with experience will know that if you care enough about a cause, an organization, or a project, you will find yourself leading others.

Sometimes acts of leadership lead to a title and maybe even a pay bump; sometimes you simply rise up to be the team member who inspires and organizes. As I look back on my academic career, I am surprised by the number and variety of leadership roles I served in along the way.

I did not apply to be part of the FY24 cohort of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Academic Leadership for Women in Engineering (ALWE) program because I was looking for an institutional leadership position. As an associate professor at a teaching-focused university, I only had aspirations to do well in my role and to grow our program.

But I was starting my role as chair of SWE’s Women in Academia (WIA) Committee, one I had entered after serving with the committee for a few years, and I was nervous about leading a team of leaders. A SWE program supporting the professional development of women in academic positions was the perfect place to go for guidance.

The program began with a CliftonStrengths Talent Assessment. During the fall workshops where we reviewed our leading styles and how we approach our leadership responsibilities, I reflected on what kind of WIA Chair I would be.

In the peer coaching session, I brought up a challenge I had while leading WIA committee meetings and received great advice from fellow ALWE participants. My focus began to change during the winter workshops as “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” and “Navigating Teaching, Research, and Service Demands” touched home with my day-to-day experiences at the university.

By the time we workshopped “Goal Setting and Planning for Future Growth” and “Career Mapping for Academic & Scientific Professionals” at the beginning of the new year, ALWE was making an impact on a much bigger scale than I had anticipated. The experts brought in over the course of the program guided me to reflect upon all aspects of my professional career and much of my personal life. ALWE wasn’t about preparing me for a leadership position, but about helping me develop the leader within me.

Specifically, ALWE speaker Dr. Katherine Stewart helped me see that career mapping does not require that I reach for a higher title. Professional growth and development goals are just as legitimate as those of moving up the career ladder. Many members of the ALWE cohort admitted that vertical movement was not in the cards for the next five years. Yet there were so many ways we could lead in our current positions, and the ALWE program provided the guidance and space for us to recognize and reach for those opportunities.

My WIA Chair-Elect is taking the reins as next year’s chair, and I do not have my sights on any leadership title, but I plan to apply to the FY25 ALWE program. As long as I am serving at my institution and in professional organizations, I will want to lead positive change. And for that, I need the guidance and camaraderie of ALWE’s interactive workshops that were developed for women like me. I hope you will join us.

Registration for the ALWE program will open soon — stay tuned on the ALWE website!

Henry Luce Foundation logoThe ALWE program is made possible with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.


  • Jessica D. Ventura, Ph.D.

    Jessica Ventura is a mechanical engineering progressor at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. She has been part of SWE since her undergraduate and graduate years at The University of Texas at Austin and has served with the Women in Academia Committee since 2021.

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