STEP Leadership- Society of Women Engineers Conference

Step Leadership- Megan Rodewald

What did I do?

I attended the Society of Women Engineers conference in Nashville, Tennessee in October, 2015. During the conference I went to sessions on leadership, sustainability, technology, and many more. I also went to the career fair that had almost 300 companies from across the country.

How did the experience influence me?

Listening to such successful women, I was reminded that, though outnumbered, women can certainly become leaders in the engineering field. Less than 15% of the people in my mechanical engineering classes are women, and sometimes it is easy to think that since it’s a male dominated profession that women aren’t as important. Spending the long weekend surrounded by approximately eight thousand women was a great way to be inspired by not only students like myself who are in the same position, but by the women who have been in engineers for a couple decades. Overall, the conference reminded me that I can make a difference in the engineering field!

An assumption of mine changed due to this conference; I have more opportunities to make a difference as a mechanical engineer than I originally thought. So far in my college career, my experience with mechanical engineering careers has been a narrow one; I have worked in two manufacturing facilities and I didn’t think I was really contributing anything useful to the world. At the conference I listened to many mechanical engineers who have helped not only their companies become successful but also improve the world in terms of sustainability, diversity, and innovation. The conference broadened my view of possible career options.

What led to my transformations in thought?

The very first session I attended was one of the most informational and influential. A woman named Julie led the session called “Building Yourself as a Leader”. She has been very successful at EcoLab, and shared some of her experience and wisdom with us. She emphasized the fact that we need to be confident and be able to ask for what we want. She is now in a director position at EcoLab, and emphasized that a leadership title means nothing without continuously proving that you deserve it. Another point she highlighted was that leadership is amplified through the success of your team. Throughout her career, Julie has mainly worked with men but that did not affect her at all; because of her confidence and work ethic she was treated as an equal. I would definitely like to hold a leadership role in the future, and Julie’s pointers made me more confident that I will be able to do that.

The career fair helped me realize that there are many opportunities for mechanical engineers outside of a manufacturing setting. Over the past two years I had begun to worry that I would be stuck with a career that I disliked. I talked to at least twenty different companies at the career fair, inquiring about internship positions but also how they use mechanical engineers. Two fields in particular that I learned more about by talking to company representatives included research & development and product design. It was also reaffirmed for me that mechanical engineers are very versatile, and can fill many different types of positions. Talking to different companies made me more confident that I will in fact find a job that I will be able to enjoy.

This conference is the largest of its kind, and people from all over the world attend it. I was able to talk to student engineers from London and Spain and also from many universities across the United States. Since it was such a diverse group of people, it made me step back and look at the community as a whole; we are all engineers wanting to make the world a better place. At Ohio State it is easy to forget about the world outside of Ohio State, but the conference put things in perspective. This conference introduced me to a diverse group of women all working towards the same goal.

Why is this transformation significant?

First of all, my interactions at the career fair encouraged me to apply to a lot of different types of companies that do something I haven’t tried yet, such as research & development or product design. Since the conference I have had four interviews with companies that interested me, and two weeks ago I accepted a summer position with a product design company called Design Central. I am very excited about this new opportunity, and I credit this conference to getting me interested in the product design side of mechanical engineering.

Another way the transformation has been important to me involves my choices for some of my senior classes. I decided to enroll in a capstone project that designs assistive devices for the medical field, which is something I don’t have experience with but am interested in trying. A lot of the women that spoke at the conference attributed some of the successes to being outgoing and trying new things, which influenced me to take the capstone that could introduce me to new parts of mechanical engineering.

In conclusion, I was introduced to an enormous network of women in engineering! I learned about opportunities that I can pursue in the field and also learned about how to be a good leader in general. Attending the conference has definitely impacted me and made me more confident as a woman in engineering.

Career fair day!

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Career Fair Day