WE21: Aspire to Inspire

For the second consecutive year, the SWE annual conference made history, as the Society held its first-ever hybrid event.

The success of WE20’s virtual format provided a solid foundation for this year’s hybrid conference, the first in the Society of Women Engineers’ history. Of the more than 16,600 attendees who took part in WE21, 7,000 did so on-site, while nearly 9,600 participated virtually. Indianapolis served as the setting for the in-person component of the October event. 

Partnering with a health-screening service, SWE enforced strict measures to ensure those who attended in person could do so safely, experiencing all the conference had to offer. All attendees and exhibitors were required to complete a health survey and provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the convention center.

Eager job seekers flock to the exhibitors hall, where representatives from leading companies, universities, and government agencies were on hand. The career fair offered both an in-person event and a virtual component.

In her welcome message, SWE Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting, CAE, encouraged attendees to consider the conference theme — Aspire to Inspire — a call to action. And WE21 offered ample opportunities to do just that, as conference-goers had access to workshops, compelling keynotes and sessions, a career fair, networking, and much more.

Stephanie C. Hill set the stage for WE21 with a captivating opening keynote. A self-described “accidental engineer,” Hill explained how one university class set her on a different path than the one she’d planned to follow, eventually leading to her current role as executive vice president, rotary and missions systems for the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The crux of her presentation centered on the importance of being authentic and infusing purpose into one’s life every day. “Authenticity breeds diversity, inclusion, and belonging,” Hill emphasized to the audience.

With tracks including advocacy and outreach; career management and development; diversity, equity, and inclusion; self-management and development; leadership; and technical innovations, WE21 delivered a bounty of opportunity to expand one’s knowledge base. In addition to panels and workshops, conference-goers found thought-provoking content in a vast range of 15-minute Snap Sessions (formally lightning talks).

Stephanie Hill, Lockheed Martin, discusses a point with SWE President Rachel Morford.
Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton shares her perspective on “letting others lead.”
Patti Poppe, who became CEO of PG&E after serving as president and CEO of Consumers Energy, delivered the closing keynote.

Inspirational Insights (formerly Mega Sessions) offered attendees in-depth discussion on such topics as the effects of racism across underrepresented groups, the technological challenges we face in reaching sustainability goals, the role of male allies in achieving gender equity in the workplace, building relationships with colleagues, key concepts of a circular economy, and secrets from the C-suite. The Inspirational Insights sessions offered continuing education units for those who attended.

This year’s State of Women in Engineering presentation featured Maria Lund Dahlberg, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine senior program officer and study director, and Marie Harton, Ph.D., a program officer with the National Academies Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Expanding on research published in SWE’s State of Women in Engineering 2021 issue, Dahlberg and Dr. Harton discussed two recent National Academies reports centered on the impact of COVID-19 on women working in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine, and practices for addressing the underrepresentation of women in science, engineering, and medicine.

Also presenting was Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., SWE associate director of research, who provided an update on SWE’s research projects, including the Society’s NSF-funded studies. Peggy Layne, P.E., F.SWE, former assistant provost and director of the ADVANCE program at Virginia Tech, discussed the current research landscape regarding data on girls’ interest in engineering, workplace culture, and other topical issues.

Under the guidance of women engineers, participants in “Invent It. Build It.,” SWE’s signature outreach event, learned basic engineering principles through hands-on activities.

The WE21 career fair took place both in-person and virtually. The world’s premier career fair for women engineers and technologists, the event draws some of the largest engineering and technology organizations seeking qualified candidates. This year, 319 exhibitors participated, giving both collegians and professionals a chance to engage with recruiters and interview for positions.

“Invent It. Build It.” returned this year, drawing enthusiastic girls from grades 9–12. The annual event allows participants to take part in hands-on engineering activities as well as learn how engineers make a difference in the world. In addition, real women engineers are present to share insight on their careers. The accompanying Parent and Educator Program offers information on engineering careers and scholarships. IIBI also includes an EXPO that features engineering clubs, engineering camps, competitions, after-school programs, and more from the local community. 

SWE conferred nearly 80 individual awards, honoring the contributions of women, men, and organizations to the advancement of women engineers. New this year was the Rising Technical Contributor Award, which acknowledges individuals who have been actively engaged in engineering or technology and have individually contributed technical work resulting in significant breakthroughs. In addition, the Society recognized 213 Patent Award recipients.

Celebrating the 2021 SWE Award Recipients

Following the WE20 model, this year’s awardees were recognized in a virtual Awards Hall. Recipients were listed by name, award, and the date the award would be presented. The format featured photos of the recipients and their awards and included a section for visitors to leave comments and express congratulations. To explore the Awards Hall, please go to https://bit.ly/3GgwVtc.

Achievement Award recipient Qian Lin, Ph.D., was recognized for “pioneering contributions in digital imaging and computer vision; and for building a bridge between research and technology with inventions that will continue to revolutionize the print and personal computing experience.” A vice president, fellow, and chief technologist for machine learning and vision systems for HP Inc., in her acceptance remarks Dr. Lin, who also received a 2021 SWE Patent Award, noted the evolution of film to digital printing as well as the increasing importance of video communication in today’s hybrid work environment. Dr. Lin’s printed acceptance remarks appear in this section of SWE Magazine. A video of Dr. Lin delivering her address can be viewed at https://bit.ly/330rkZI.