SWE members — whether in academia, private industry, or seeking continuing education or life-coping strategies — say they’ve found a gold mine in SWE’s Advance Learning Center.
By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor
The SWE Advance Learning Center offers members free webinars, live virtual meetings, and other resources. Such a range of options can help SWE members earn professional development hours and continuing education credits and benefit from career advice and personal development strategies.
Jennifer Winikus, Ph.D., said she now puts her name in the hat to volunteer for duties at the University at Buffalo that she would never have considered before.
“I’ve learned techniques for self and career management,” said Dr. Winikus, an assistant professor of teaching in the University at Buffalo Department of Computer Science and Engineering and a 2021 SWE Distinguished New Engineer.
Dr. Winikus serves as the university’s SWE collegiate faculty advisor; co-chair of outreach for the SWE Western New York Section; chair of the University at Buffalo’s SWE women in academia committee: and as the academic representative on the Society’s conference advisory board.
“If you don’t ask, you’re not going to get [what you’re aiming for],” she said. “A big piece of my learning has been about self-advocacy, the hows and the encouragement.”
CREDIT: Heather Bellini Photography
“A big piece of my learning has been about self-advocacy, the hows and the encouragement.”
– Jennifer Winikus, Ph.D., assistant professor of teaching, University at Buffalo Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Dr. Winikus began her journey with SWE’s Advance Learning Center six years ago as a member of the Society’s curriculum committee. The committee offers feedback on the quality of webinars and how particular webinars fit with the learning competency model.
“I couldn’t even tell you how many webinars I’ve watched,” she said. Fewer than 10% of the 50-plus faculty members in Dr. Winikus’ department are engineers. In SWE, she found colleagues who share similar interests and whom she can relate to.
She finds it empowering to meet other SWE members who love learning about a wide range of topics, from techniques to handle challenging situations, how to better manage your finances, to how to guide your employer to embrace a more inclusive workplace.
After she started delving into the learning center’s diverse resources, Dr. Winikus said she discovered “a dynamic of encouragement and guidance of what’s possible.”
“It’s a mindset of accomplishment possibilities and recognition,” she said.
Sage Mosteller, a chemical engineer, applications lab specialist, and water quality specialist with Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions’ Sievers Instruments, said she has found vital information in the Advance Learning Center as an early-stage career engineer. Mosteller graduated just three years ago from the University of Delaware.
Mosteller uses the learning center to help her navigate career hurdles that emerge as she transitions into the workforce. Her workplace comprises mostly engineers with decades of experience, so the learning platform provides another resource to equip herself. She said she has picked up skills in negotiating, advocating for oneself, and developing a mindset for inclusive leadership.
“I find it motivating to learn more about topics. Finding new knowledge — ones applicable to my career. If I can use that information, you bet I will find it.”
– Sage Mosteller, chemical engineer, applications lab specialist, and water quality specialist, Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions, Sievers Instruments
She said she also appreciates that the learning center’s tracks and special programs are easy to find. “They’re on the homepage. It’s broken into groups — like self-management and development,” she said. “That’s the resource I access most frequently.”
Mosteller is an active member of her employer’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) resource group, which sponsors SWE’s University of Colorado Boulder Section. She is currently taking SWE’s “Developing the Mindset for Inclusive Leadership” learning module at her own pace, and she has enjoyed other content from speaker Selena Revzani.
Mosteller said the resources available in the Advance Learning Center have helped her to be a better ally and strengthened her commitment to DEI&B. “What do you do when you encounter adversity?” Mosteller said she wanted to know. “How do you advocate for others? From a [DEI&B] standpoint, that’s a huge skill.”
Though Mosteller has completed her undergraduate studies, she considers herself a lifelong learner.
“If ignorance is bliss, I think knowing is empowering,” she said. “I find it motivating to learn more about topics. Finding new knowledge — ones applicable to my career. If I can use that information, you bet I will find it.”
Noel J. McCaw, P.E., product introduction project manager with Pfizer, earned professional development credits she needed to maintain her professional engineer license by accessing online resources in the Advance Learning Center.
“When I went through the program catalog, so many courses aligned with our new way of working — in a hybrid or fully remote way,” said McCaw, who leads and contributes to teams where members often log in remotely, including those who work outside the United States.
McCaw dug into the Advance Learning Center’s resources and found programs that helped her learn how to keep her team engaged and how team productivity is enhanced by being sensitive to cultural, geographic, and language diversity.
That is especially valuable to McCaw because her role requires her to empower her team members to make suggestions and to express their concerns enthusiastically. That requires giving team members flexibility and a sense of belonging. “I don’t want to dictate,” she said. “Rather, as a project manager, I drive collaboration toward the best decision.
“For me, the key is to be selective, choosing subjects that matter to me and topics that I want or need to become more knowledgeable about, either for personal or professional reasons.”
– Noel McCaw, P.E., product introduction project manager, Pfizer
“I saw our team excel over the COVID time frame, and I didn’t want to lose that positivity that we had created,” McCaw said.
She credits one speaker in particular — trainer and coach Hope Timberlake — with providing invaluable tips on how to become a better communicator verbally, in writing, and visually.
This included tools and techniques to speak up with confidence and ways to build your leadership acumen; for example, clearly ending sentences as a statement, rather than using a questioning tone. The course content made her consider the way others hear you and how that impacts how they view the legitimacy of your leadership.
“By applying these techniques, I have noticed a difference in how I think about myself,” McCaw said.
She learned to avoid using phrases such as “I think,” “I believe,” or “I suppose.” Instead, she recommends, proposes, questions, urges, advises, and expects.
Another valuable awareness that McCaw has gained is that conflict is productive and even essential for team success. “I had historically tried to avoid conflict, and I viewed it as a negative,” she said. “I thought that seeing conflict as productive and positive was fascinating. And in fact, you will learn, and the team will grow from conflict if it’s handled with respect and openness.
“For me, the key is to be selective, choosing subjects that matter to me and topics that I want or need to become more knowledgeable about, either for personal or professional reasons,”
Dr. Winikus said she learned how to be “an active bystander” and, in doing so, to become a valuable ally in the workplace. “It’s one of those skills that you wouldn’t think even existed, but it’s important to have in your head so you can help make a better community,” she said.
“It helps when people start off saying, ‘It makes sense you’re feeling this way.’ After you feel validated and understand the root cause, you can start to move forward and get somewhere.”
– Katherine Kopytko, senior value-stream engineer, 3M
Katherine Kopytko, a senior value-stream engineer at 3M in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, advises SWE members to read their weekly SWE newsletter as that’s how she learned of the Advance Learning Center.
She has enjoyed the convenience of listening to recordings — sometimes more than once — and tuning into live learning sessions. She can quickly look up the sessions she has accessed.
Kopytko looks for sessions that help her develop both technical and soft skills. As for the latter, she said she found a seminar titled “Managing Burnout for Busy People” especially refreshing.
“I found the information to be realistic,” Kopytko said. The presenter, Heather Whelpley, is a professional speaker and author of An Overachiever’s Guide to Breaking the Rules.
Rather than talk about a generality such as “self-care,” Kopytko said Whelpley asked insightful questions such as, “Are you actually busy? Why are you making yourself busy? What are the underlying feelings, like things we grew up with, that are resurfacing that are creating those feelings [of being overwhelmed with busyness]?”
“That resonated for me,” said Kopytko, whose SWE involvement began as a mechanical engineering student at Iowa State University. She now volunteers with SWE Minnesota and is part of 3M’s SWE professional development group.
“It helps when people start off saying, ‘It makes sense you’re feeling this way,’” Kopytko said. “After you feel validated and understand the root cause, you can start to move forward and get somewhere.”
Kopytko chose mechanical engineering because she likes being a “jack of all trades.” “I’ve always been interested in learning new things and having a variety of experiences,” she said.
And that’s how she approaches data automation projects — looking for ways to sort through data, to see data easier and faster, and to compare large data sets.
“I recommend going through the [Advance Learning Center’s] categories to pick topics that interest you and see if you learn something new,” she said.
For more information and to explore the SWE Advance Learning Center’s diverse offerings, visit https://advancelearning.swe.org/