Colorado School of Mines
For exemplary leadership in developing future leaders within SWE; for coaching and supporting students’ initiatives and outreach efforts; and for inspiring students to become leaders in their own right.
Kelly Knechtel began working in collegiate student affairs in 2009, when she served as a student support advisor at DeVry University. Today she serves as associate director of the Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics (WISEM) Program and associate director of diversity, inclusion, and access at Colorado School of Mines. In this dual role, she also fulfills the responsibilities of faculty advisor to the school’s SWE section (SWE Mines), the largest SWE collegiate section in the U.S. and the largest professional student organization on campus.
Knechtel began her role as faculty advisor in 2018 and has sought to maintain the strong programming and outreach for which the SWE Mines Section is known. She coaches and supports some 20 SWE student leaders and has been crucial in helping the section restructure its board and design materials to assist officers as they organize meetings, schedule events, and evaluate programming.
She is known for a leadership style that strikes a balance between guiding students and giving them autonomy to lead their section within the guidelines of Mines policies. This approach has empowered students to create, plan, implement, and manage many of their own activities. She attends all section events and officer meetings and participates in events the Society hosts, including WE Local conferences and the annual conference.
Recently, Knechtel advised the section as it sought to establish two new outreach events to address age groups that had not been represented. The section launched Girls on the Rise for middle school students and Girls are S.M.A.R.T. for elementary-age students. The section now organizes and sponsors outreach programs for all K-12 students, such as Girl Scout Engineering Day, held each October for roughly 100 Denver-area fourth- and fifth-grade girls who are introduced to STEM fields through hands-on activities, and the Full STEM Ahead Girls Camp, which encourages exploration of STEM careers among middle-schoolers.
In 2021, Knechtel received a grant to expand STEM outreach programming statewide via the K-12 Virtual Classroom Takeover experience that includes supplies and a 50-minute interactive STEM demonstration. The “takeover” showcases the diversity within science and engineering.
The section has garnered several SWE awards. During Knechtel’s first year as advisor, the section received the 2018-19 Mission Award that recognizes SWE groups that embody the organization’s core values and demonstrate continuous improvement and growth as they work to achieve the Society’s strategic goals. Its most recent awards are the 2021-22 WE Local Outstanding Professional Development Event Award, the WE Local 2022 Outstanding Outreach Event Award, and the WE Local 2022 Joint Professional/Collegiate Event Award, all stemming from an initiative Knechtel created to help student officers learn how to incorporate performance planning, goal setting, and evaluation into their roles as they prepare to become engineers.
Apart from her professional responsibilities, Knechtel teaches an indoor cycling class and a jump rope class at the Mines Student Recreation Center. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Michigan State University and an M.A. in higher education student affairs leadership from Western Michigan University. Knechtel lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.