By Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist
SWE President Lt. Col. Arminta Harness, F.SWE, was surprised, intrigued — and confused — in 1977 when she and leaders of other women’s organizations were invited to a White House briefing on the Panama Canal Treaties and a foreign policy meeting at the State Department. Policymakers, it seemed, hoped SWE’s invitation to such meetings would generate policy support among the Society’s members.
By the 1990s, however, SWE had reached a point where it could hope to be the influencer, rather than the influenced. In 1994, Patricia Eng, P.E., F.SWE, and Past President Suzanne Jenniches, F.SWE, testified in Congress on the findings of the Society’s 1993 National Survey of Women and Men Engineers, marking the first time members represented the Society on Capitol Hill. Since then, SWE members have increasingly found a seat at the table in legislative hearings, congressional visits, and policy hearings, educating policymakers to advance women in STEM and society overall.
U.S. Rep. Constance Morella and SWE Past President Roberta Banaszak Gleiter, F.SWE, speak during a 2000 reception of the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development. Several SWE members provided testimony during CAWMSET hearings on the recruitment and retention of women in STEM. CAWMSET was established by Congress in 1998.
Barbara Bogue, fourth from left, represented SWE in 2009 during “Encouraging the Participation of Women in STEM Fields,” a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology and the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.
Two SWE past presidents participated in the American Association for the Advancement of Science Congressional Fellowship program in the 1990s. Sponsored by IEEE, Jaclyn Spear, F.SWE, provided scientific and technical input for the White House International Relations Committee Democratic staff in 1997. Peggy Layne, P.E., F.SWE, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, consulted on environmental and water resources in the office of Florida Senator Bob Graham in 1999. During her year as a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellow in 1997, SWE member Jennifer Hwu, Ph.D., consulted on the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM.
For many decades, SWE intentionally avoided involvement in public policy, but it significantly reversed course when FY04 President Alma Martinez Fallon facilitated a partnership with ASME to hire SWE’s first Washington representative. Learn about SWE’s journey from avoidance to advocacy in SWE Stories: Tales from the Archives podcast episode, “Getting from There to Here in Public Policy,” at www.bit.ly/3wn03uc