SWE supports women in STEM for 60+ years

Members of Tech’s chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) attend a conference together. SWE offers opportunities for professional and personal development. // Photo courtesy of Eshita Chhajlani

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has established its presence on Tech’s campus over the past 64 years as an organization that helps foster growth and uplift women.

The national Society of Women Engineers was founded in 1950. Soon after, in 1958, Tech’s SWE chapter was founded by Maryly Van Leer Peck, daughter of Blake Van Leer, the fifth president of Tech. 

SWE president and fourth-year CE C’lee Kornegay, said, “Since its establishment in 1958, Georgia Tech Society of Women Engineers has actively given women engineering students a unique place and voice within the engineering industry. Our organization is centered around a passion for our members’ success and continues to evolve with the challenges and opportunities reflected in today’s exciting engineering and technology specialties.”

With approximately 500 members consisting of both undergraduate and graduate students, the organization represents women across various engineering and applied science majors. 

Tech first began to allow women to pursue higher education at the school in 1952, when President Van Leer helped facilitate the integration after a 7-5 Board of Regents decision which would officially allow women to study at the university. 

Diane Michel and Elizabeth Herndon became the first women to enroll at Tech on a full-time basis. By 1956, Tech had its first two female graduates, Diane Michel and Shirley Clement. 

SWE’s mission statement states that they “strive to empower women and girls to achieve their full potential in STEM disciplines at Georgia Tech and the broader Atlanta area by developing a supportive and inclusive community, establishing a strong professional network through career and technical development opportunities, and fostering an engaging outreach program.” 

SWE focuses on advocating for gender equity in STEM, diversity and inclusion of all students and cross-campus collaboration at Tech. 

The Society of Women Engineers applies the three pillars, professional development, social opportunities and outreach programs, and the organization works towards achieving their mission statement through outreach programs, mentorship programs, social events and alumni networking. 

“Each semester, we host multiple STEM days to help encourage young girls to pursue STEM throughout their education,” Kornegay said. “At Georgia Tech, we have mentorship programs and social events to continue to provide a support system for women in STEM. After college, GT SWE has an alumni network for alumni to continue to seek support throughout their career and the national SWE organization provides programs for professional members to continue to seek support and mentorship.”

Another goal of Tech’s SWE chapter is to encourage under-represented groups, including African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native American women, to further themselves within STEM fields and careers. 

Diversity and inclusion are a priority within the organization, and the women teach each other to respect others as well as differences in family status, sexual orientation, age and physical abilities.

First-year CHBE major Violeta Escandon said, “The Society of Women Engineers at Georgia Tech helps advocate for gender equity in STEM. Its pillars root around the ideas of diversity and inclusion. Supporting over hundreds of students, SWE offers social and professional events that bring our Tech community closer, [bridging] over the gender-gaps through support and help to educate one another.”

Escandon has personally found lots of opportunities for growth through Tech’s SWE chapter.

“SWE has given me a safe place to create bonds, grow professionally and develop as a leader,” Escandon said. “I look forward to our meetings and our community building events. From helping me connect with recruiters of various companies to taking me to New Mexico for a conference, SWE has been with me for all.”

Through her position as SWE chapter president, Kornegay has grown both professionally and socially.

“GT SWE has given me the opportunity to not only grow professionally through its countless professional development and technical development workshops and panels, but also personally as I have grown from being a shy freshman to the president of the organization, and I have pushed myself beyond my comfort zone to learn how to be a leader at Tech,” Kornegay said. 

SWE has helped women across Tech’s campus and across the nation advance their academic goals and to pursue STEM-focused careers. To learn more about Tech’s chapter of SWE, visit swe.gtorg.gatech.edu.