A World of Opportunity Awaits: An Interview with FY23 SWE President Dayna Johnson, P.E.

Dayna Johnson, P.E. President She/Her

Q: Let’s begin by discussing your theme for this year, “A World of Opportunity Awaits.” Considering that the world is still dealing with the uncertainties of COVID variants, economic upheaval, and a host of other issues, this is a refreshingly optimistic and hopeful notion. Can you tell us why you chose this theme and what it means to you?

A: I love this theme because it has many meanings, both personally and organizationally. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had a variety of opportunities that have taken me down paths I never would have imagined, and I’m so grateful.

Looking more broadly, a world of opportunity awaits SWE. There are still aspects of COVID and other uncertainties to deal with, but we also have many possibilities before us. We’ve made strides globally over the last number of years, and building upon those will open new avenues and possibilities for individual members and our organization overall.

And as difficult as the last two years have been, I worked hard to stay optimistic. I truly wanted to see what I could gain from the experiences we were going through — and there was almost always a silver lining. I think that’s why I can honestly say we have a world of opportunity before us.

Q: In the past few years, SWE has made significant progress in key areas, including increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) across the organization. How do you see this momentum continuing and expanding?

A: I believe that SWE’s DEIB efforts will become even stronger and increasingly fruitful, that we will continue to welcome all people and find opportunities for them. For example, I just received a message from a member about a committee meeting she was in. She shared just how diverse the group was, and how it was a breath of fresh air to see people from all over the world get together and share their visions for the group. I hope that groups like this are the role models for all of us, the beacon we hold all of our leadership up to in an effort to be that inclusive organization. As we continue to grow globally, our inclusion efforts will be crucial for our success — between accepting new cultures, understanding different time zones, and working to understand one another.

Q: What areas of growth do you see the Society pursuing under your leadership?

A: Of course, with a theme like “A World of Opportunity Awaits,” I look forward to continuing to spread our mission globally. We have also spent a lot of energy on the diversity of our leadership, and to continue our progress, this year on the board we have a special director focused on opportunities to reduce unconscious bias in SWE’s selection processes. Finally, we are focusing on the culture of SWE. A survey will be coming out this fall, and I hope we get a large turnout for that effort. Watch for more details soon!

Q: What aspects of your personal or professional background have been helpful as you prepared for your term?

A: I truly believe it’s the compilation of many skills that have helped prepare me for my term. While I was in the accelerated leadership program at GE, I gained many different experiences. One of my roles provided global exposure, which opened new vistas for me, and that helped secure in my mind the importance of our global efforts. Overall, the program developed the skills of prioritization and delegation, and having my second baby right before starting the program only further cemented those skills!

Q: Do you have a favorite “SWE moment”? Has there been an event or SWE experience that was especially memorable or pivotal?

A: It almost seems unfair to be asked this question, only because SWE has been such a huge part of my life over the last couple of decades that I have many favorite SWE moments. My first SWE conference was a Region H conference at the University of Michigan in college, and it was eye-opening — in such a good way! I was so excited to see the impact SWE had outside of my collegiate section. I made lifelong friends in that collegiate section and have memories from our times together that I’ll carry with me forever.

When I hit the professional side of SWE, one of the first “big” roles I had was WE11 local host committee co-chair, when conference was in Chicago. I can still feel the energy in the room from when I was standing onstage in front of the attendees at the closing session. It was clear to me how important SWE was to so many people. And, finally, now having the opportunity to contribute as the SWE president I’m sure will make this year one of many memorable experiences.

Q: What would you say to encourage a new SWE member to make the most of their experience? Similarly, do you have any advice or insights for members farther along on their SWE journeys?

A: SWE has so much to offer for women at all stages of their careers. I always love the face-to-face connections at conference, so any time I can recommend that someone attend one of our conferences, I do! Our annual conference, of course, has so much to offer, but I’ve been very happy with the offerings during our WE Local conferences as well. Not only are the breakout sessions an opportunity to learn, but the people you meet often become lifelong friends. If the conferences don’t fit your schedule, the mentor network offers another great way to connect with and learn from other SWE members. There are new cohorts formed every so often, and the mentors who have participated always talk of how much they benefit and grow due to their mentees! Both of these opportunities are valuable for members at all career stages.

Q: In this issue of the magazine, we are running an article about the first women to earn P.E. licenses. It’s an interesting group, and in researching this topic we found that in the early years of SWE, there was a concerted effort to encourage members to earn the P.E. license as one of the ways to establish credibility. As a P.E., and as a SWE leader, what are your thoughts on the importance of professional development and establishing credibility?

A: As a civil engineer, it was critical for me to get my engineering license in the line of work I was doing. Not every discipline is that way, though. I knew that for me, that stamp meant many new opportunities. I do agree with the early SWE members — it is a way to establish credibility. I felt that when I passed the exam, I was viewed as more qualified, even though it was just one day and one test. One of the many advantages of SWE has been that I’ve been able to complete my continuing education requirements for my professional engineer license through SWE conferences and educational opportunities.