Representatives of the National Labs on a panel at SWE 2017

Panelists from left to right: Chrisma Jackson, Kathrine Cipriano, Lauren Boldon, Mayling Wong-Squires, Robbie Klisiewicz, and Gail Mattson.

Picture yourself in sunny Austin, Texas, surrounded by natural beauty, a bustling city, and fantastic barbeque. Now picture yourself at the Austin Convention Center, filled with 14,000 women and men in STEM fields. This is what occurred at the Society of Women Engineers WE17 Conference this past week.

The annual conference is run by the Society of Women Engineers, or SWE as it is typically called. SWE is an organization of 35,000 collegiate and professional members that support women engineers. SWE gives women the tools to grow as engineers and leaders in their organizations by providing training exercises and development programs, networking opportunities, scholarships, and outreach activities. There are 300 collegiate SWE sections and 100 professional SWE sections across the United States.

This year’s WE17 conference had the largest attendance on record with over 14,000 attendees. The diversity of attendees was very encouraging to see. There were women and men, college students and professionals. At the conference, college students can take advantage of a giant two-day career expo with over 300 companies. Professionals at the conference can lead sessions, participate in panel discussions, and network with other women in engineering fields.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s conference representing the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Five women from national laboratories participated in a panel discussion at the WE17 conference. As a group, our goal was to share our experiences and inspire young women engineers to pursue careers at national labs. The panelists were Lauren Boldon (Argonne National Laboratory), Gail Mattson (Brookhaven National Laboratory), Robbie Klisiewicz (Los Alamos National Laboratory), Chrisma Jackson (Sandia National Laboratory), and myself (Fermilab). Mayling Wong-Squires (Fermilab) led the panel discussion and posed questions to the group about our backgrounds, career paths, and current roles. Most of us had not met before, so it was interesting for us as panelists to hear each other’s responses. We all work in such different environments, from nuclear proliferation to particle accelerators. Discussing our specific roles was a great way to show students in the audience the wide variety of careers available at the national labs. At the end of the panel discussion, we answered questions from the audience and had the opportunity to talk with students one-on-one about some of their engineering interests.

After our session was finished, the group of national lab women immediately started brainstorming ideas for what we could do at next year’s WE18 conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were pleased with how well the panel went, but in typical engineer fashion, saw room for improvement and growth. We are excited to plan for future SWE conferences and events to promote why we love working at national labs.  

To learn more about how you can get involved with SWE visit