Society of Women Engineers Aspire to Inspire 

by Angelica Niedermeyer & Rebecca Kranich, Contributors

From Oct. 21-23, Manhattan College’s chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) traveled to Indianapolis to attend their annual national convention. 

This year, the theme of the SWE event was “Aspire to Inspire” as many guest lecturers and keynote speakers shared their experiences as women in engineering. MC’s chapter of SWE was able to bring 15 women on this trip, the highest number they’ve ever had. 

According to many of the MC attendees the keynote speakers were their favorite part of the conference. Francesca Bernhardt, a junior mechanical engineer with a minor in ethics, said her favorite part of the conference was the first keynote speaker Stephanie C. Hill.

“Her talk was on infusing purpose into your life and bringing your authentic self to work which I thought was really interesting and empowering,” Bernhardt said.

President of SWE, Ashley Hickey, a senior civil engineering major described that there were presentations about “confidence in confrontation and imposter syndrome due to COVID.” 

Ciara Coyle, a senior chemical engineering major, told the Quadrangle via email that her favorite speaker at the event was “Madam Walker: Woman of Color & Entrepreneur.” 

“As a chemical engineering student pursuing a career in cosmetics, I loved hearing how Madam Walker shaped today’s cosmetic industry as she produced haircare products for women of color,” Coyle wrote. 

Another significant part of the conference was the two day career fair. There were onsite interviews and major corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Tesla and Apple.

Like the many STEM fields, Manhattan College has a predominantly male engineering program. Therefore, the women of SWE find it to be an important organization that prepares them to be successful engineers for the rest of their careers.

“One of the major issues with male-dominated fields is that women get into it and then get burnt out,” Hickey said. “So, their retention in male-dominated industries for women is pretty low.”

It’s only been about 50 years since the first female engineering student graduated from the School of Engineering here at Manhattan College. Jessica Wilson, Ph.D., the faculty advisor of SWE, describes the trends of women’s involvement in engineering. 

“In the 1990s only about 20 percent of the engineering class were women. Fast forward to today, we’re only at 24 percent and if you look ahead into the distribution of women and men who are in the field the number is much lower. We go from 24% to 15%, somewhere along the way women are leaving engineering and we need to figure out why,” Wilson said. 

Even in the school of engineering at Manhattan College, gender is an inescapable obstacle women face. SWE provides a space for women to have difficult conversations. 

“It’s funny because the minute you join SWE and you talk about things like ‘Oh I had this lab group and it was all guys and I didn’t have the best experience,’ or like ‘Oh I experienced sexism with my physics professor,’ it’s kind of unfortunately a universal experience,” Bernhardt said.

Not only do the students feel the gender separation, but the women engineering faculty as well.

“Coming to Manhattan College, being just one of very few female engineering faculty, we are still the minority, but it’s changing,” said Wilson, who was hired by MC eight years ago. “When I was hired, there was only, I think, two female tenured engineering faculty.” 

According to Coyle, it is important for MC to have a student chapter of SWE who can connect with other students and faculty. 

“Having a supportive group of women with similar career goals to support and motivate you through such a difficult academic program and internship/job search process is invaluable,” Coyle wrote. 

SWE is so much more than just a club or program to the girls involved. 

“It really makes me feel like I am a part of something,” Hickey said.

Bernhardt agrees with Coyle and Hickey and describes how SWE is impactful for its mentoring opportunities. 

“It’s so important that you don’t know how to describe it, and I tell people joining SWE is inadvertently joining a mentorship program,” Bernhardt said.

For potential members to join SWE, they can sign up at the club fair, email SWE at, and follow the instagram @swemanhattan for active updates.