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Penn State’s Society Of Women Engineers Commits To Breaking Gender Barriers

In a field that is dominated by men, Penn State’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is working to show its dedication and intelligence by breaking gender barriers across campus and in the workplace.

Its officers, Paige Vernon, Laura Brownstead, Ava Drum, and Isabella Gayoso, joined the club that started a branch here at Penn State in 1975. All of the love, outreach, and community that they have formed for themselves, as well as over 250 other members, is continuing to grow. 

Soon entering a workforce that often struggles when it comes to gender equality, these women have found a home full of support and networking to get through this diversity. Even from a young age, they knew what was lying ahead of them.

“Being the only girl in that field and being super competitive, I really wanted to do well in STEM classes and outdo all the guys,“ Vernon said.

This attitude transitioned with each of them to Penn State as they began their collegiate education.

“The unfortunate thing is that we all experience that alienization in some way or another,” Brownstead, the group’s University Affairs officer, said. “The first few times it happens, it’s really demotivating, and it makes you question whether or not you belong.”

Luckily for them, they have found a home within SWE that has brought them both companionship and success. This was extremely prevalent after the group took home the gold at the National SWE Conference in Indiana this year, marking the society’s eighth straight title.

“It feels good to win gold, but it feels even better to know that the programs we’re putting on and the people we work with are putting on are having a positive impact,” Drum said.

This year’s national conference featured a handful of events and opportunities, including a career fair, networking activities, keynote speakers, and more.

While the group consistently advocates for women, it’s focused on other initiatives, too. Together, SWE also received an award for its diversity and inclusion campaigns.

“[We’re] trying to reach out to not just white women in the College of Engineering but also Hispanic, black, and women of the LGBT+ community so we can really provide opportunities to all the intersectional individuals and personalities,” Brownstead said.

As an involved campus organization, the society participates in THON and Homecoming, too. This year, the group had four dancers participating in the record-breaking dance marathon benefiting its organization, as well as its Four Diamonds families, the Sullivans and the Plummers.

No matter where it’s getting involved, the SWE has routinely placed an emphasis on healthy competition — an ambition that helps it grow, learn, and better advocate for women in engineering fields.

“If you’re competitive, sometimes it works for you. If not, you have a great support network to help you get through it,” Brownstead emphasized.

To learn more about the group, you can visit its website or fill out its interest form online.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a senior staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music or Penn State wrestling and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs in Beaver Stadium. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected].

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