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Practice Curiosity

For my term as SWE president, I selected the theme “Practice Curiosity” because it’s a behavior that has been critical not only to my technical skills and learning throughout my life, but particularly valuable in connecting with and learning from people different from myself. I truly believe this to be foundational to building an inclusive culture where diversity is celebrated.

holding sign up script #4 behind the scenes
Behind the scenes recording videos for WE21 at SWE headquarters. We kept track of my “wardrobe” so that the recordings were as seamless as possible with the live Q&A broadcast from my living room.

At the start of our year, the board of directors had conversations about how much more difficult it is to be vulnerable and express a different viewpoint when working with a team of people you’ve not met and you don’t know well. We deliberately added some meetings for purely social connection, which helped build a foundation for deeper discussions. A fully virtual year required more intentionality, a willingness to let go of the important but not critical, and a lot of grace and patience for ourselves and others. While I hope we will not have to use them as frequently in the future, these have been valuable lessons for us. Through it all, SWE has continued to move forward in each of our strategic pillars of professional excellence, globalization, advocacy, and diversity and inclusion.

Significant milestones despite the pandemic

We started the fiscal year with an initial plan to hold a hybrid conference. I held out hope to see my SWEople in New Orleans, but I could not have been more proud or impressed with the fully virtual event our amazing team at headquarters put together. While many of us lamented not being able to travel and see one another in person, I enjoyed the many opportunities to connect with people from around the globe in live networking sessions, from the affinity groups to the Fellows tea to dancing with the SWE Africa network. The virtual Awards Hall offered a unique opportunity to celebrate the individuals and groups making advancements in the profession and in service of SWE’s mission. I’ve also enjoyed the flexibility of watching sessions over several months.

painting illustration of swe board
A unique year called for a unique board “photo” since we couldn’t be together physically. I commissioned this illustration from my stepdaughter, Ashley Fobes, featuring the Boulder, Colorado, Flatirons in the background.

It was exciting to celebrate SWE’s 70th anniversary year with another fantastic milestone: granting more than $1 million in scholarships for the first time ever. Thank you to all of the individuals and partners who show us the importance of paying it forward. Our advocacy work in public policy enjoyed continued success with our virtual congressional outreach visits, with SWE members sharing our support for a variety of issues with elected officials. In particular, the re-introduction of the STEM RESTART Act was particularly rewarding since SWE worked closely with the sponsors.

I’m proud of the acceleration of our progress in SWE’s DEI journey this past year. I cannot thank our Special Directors Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua, Ph.D., and Maisha Gray-Diggs, Ph.D., enough for their wisdom, talents, and passion in challenging SWE’s status quo. I hope you learned as much as I did from the Developing the Mindset for Inclusive Leadership training that Selena Rezvani created for SWE.

Please join me in thanking our affinity groups and their leadership teams for providing amazing programming and important support networks.

In addition, I was proud to represent SWE and advocate diversity, equity, and inclusion by serving on panels for events with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, ASME, and association management consulting firm McKinley Advisors.

I enjoyed the opportunities I had to interact with collegiate members, from attending presentations given by participants in our Leadership Development Program to serving on a panel for SWE’s High School Leadership Academy to serving as a speaker for various section events. I’m inspired that our future is bright with the talents these future leaders display.

virtual installation image of multiple online users
The first of many virtual events: Installation of the FY21 board of directors.

When I joined SWE in college, we didn’t yet have a website, and the main communication sections had with the Society was an annual physical mailing from headquarters. I am so grateful for the advances in technology that provided us the ability to connect in a time of isolation. Having the mission of SWE to focus on certainly was a balm for my mental health over this past year, and I so appreciated the support that I felt from all of you.

From the gifts from SWE presidents past and future that arrived at my door to notes from members on social media, we wove a web of support and lifted one another up in challenging times.

Though in-person interactions were rare this year, one in particular stands out. I was chatting with a neighbor out walking his dog and inquired how his girlfriend’s job search was progressing. He responded, “Are you familiar with the Society of Women Engineers? They have a virtual career fair next week, which is how she got her previous position.” I got to have a little fun sharing my “familiarity” with SWE. How gratifying to have our impact recognized in this way!

Despite the challenges this year presented, the SWE community demonstrated resilience, mutual support, and continued excellence. Serving as SWE president through one of the most challenging years in our history renewed my passion for this organization and its mission. Thanks to the staff, our volunteer leaders, and each and every one of you for an amazing FY21, and please continue to Practice Curiosity!

Heather Doty
FY21 SWE President

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