“I didn’t know girls could get jobs in engineering,” career guidance committee member Pat Zeman wrote in a 1972 letter to Chairman Betty Kimmel, recalling her inadequate career counseling in high school. The challenges of inspiring teenage girls to pursue engineering were steep in the Society’s early decades. Young women had few female role models to counter the social expectations and parental skepticism steering them away from technical careers.
“As I see career guidance,” Zeman explained, “we must make girls of all ages aware of engineering as a career; advise of engineering job opportunities; and encourage familiarity with technological hardware.”
Shortly after the Society’s founding in 1950, SWE sections began holding career nights, sponsoring science fair awards, presenting certificates of merit for mathematics, and hosting hands-on activities. But to create more lasting connections, the board of directors and council of section representatives (now senate) first explored the concept of affiliate student membership and SWE sections for girls in 1991. The idea was revisited two decades later, and the SWENext program debuted in March 2015, providing a framework for precollegiate clubs and an opportunity for SWE members to become the role models and mentors they rarely saw themselves decades before.
– Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist