Advocacy in the Time of COVID Session at WE 21

After a completely virtual WE20, it was great to see SWE members in person in Indianapolis this year. While the program featured a combination of both virtual and in-person events, an in-person advocacy discussion featured SWE leadership, SWE members who are seasoned advocates, and SWE’s representatives in Washington, DC.
Advocacy in the Time of COVID Session at WE 21 - Advocacy

After introductions from SWE Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting, Della Cronin, SWE’s Washington, DC, Representative, provided attendees an overview of SWE’s advocacy and policy priorities, as well as the latest news from the Nation’s Capital. SWE concentrates on four areas related to public policy:

  1. Strengthening STEM education in America’s schools
  2. Ensuring Title IX is applied to STEM fields and women in STEM fairly and effectively
  3. Strengthening the STEM workforce by ensuring equal opportunity for women in STEM education and careers
  4. Supporting policies that allow women to be successful on their own terms

This year, Congress has debated several legislative initiatives that touch on these priorities. These include: the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in the spring and is sending states billions of dollars to navigate the ongoing effects of the pandemic; the recently-enacted infrastructure package, which will have engineers working on public works projects for years; the annual process of investing in federal education and research programs; and, competitiveness legislation meant to strengthen the country’s economic standing on the world stage. SWE has weighed in on each of these matters and many more. After a brief discussion of the organization’s federal efforts, members of the panel noted that advocacy happens at every level—federal, state and local, as well as within organizations and communities.

Katelyn Lichte, SWE’s FY22 Government Relations & Public Policy (GRPP) Coordinator-Elect, shared how she was appointed to a STEM policy advisory board in Iowa. As an engineer, she was concerned about how STEM education was being taught in her state; in particular, she worried that interest and talent among young females wasn’t being adequately identified and nurtured. This interest prompted her to start attending various meetings of education boards in the state. She showed up. It’s surprising how few people do, and her persistence resulted in her being appointed to a statewide board on STEM education.

Jenny Tsao, SWE’s FY22 GRPP Coordinator, shared her experiences, which included serving as a legislative fellow in the US Senate. Like Katelyn, Jenny’s interest and willingness to pursue various opportunities led her to a position in Washington, DC, where she was influencing the positions of a senator, who relied on her first-hand knowledge of engineering to inform policy discussions. Her experience also allowed her to give attendees pointers on how to have an effective meeting with lawmakers and staff.

Janet Williams, a retired engineer, former SWE Editorial board member and lifelong advocate for STEM education and female engineers, has been very involved with the state legislature’s efforts in New Mexico. Her years of experience and expertise are being put to good use as she meets with lawmakers who want to make sure that New Mexico is supporting a strong STEM workforce.

Collectively, the panel showed attendees that advocacy takes on many forms and that opportunities for supporting female engineers and young women interested in STEM fields are plentiful. The discussion was an optimistic one. While politics may be divisive these days, the importance of sharing your talents and time in support of your peers is a common cause with strong support.

Want to submit a session around engaging in advocacy for WE22? Look for the WE22 Call for Participation, which will open mid-January!

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