Women's Leadership Conference

Vice-Chair Report following the Women's Leadership Conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida

On March 30, 2001, I attended the Women's Leadership Conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida as the Women's Initiative Committee's representative. The one-day conference was sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), U.S. Department of Labor, Region 4 Women's Bureau, and NASA, Kennedy Space Center and was hosted by the Space Coast Section of the Society of Women Engineers. There were thirty-one in attendance including Ms. Gail Mattson, President of SWE, and Ms. LeEarl Bryant, President Elect of IEEE. The meeting began with breakfast and an opportunity to network with the other attendees. The Conference goal was to "create solid and effective partnerships between participating organizations that encourage girls to study and women to pursue careers in math, science, engineering, and technology". The assembled group was the right size for networking and it was clear that people were eager to make connections. Ms. Brenda Fuentes, President of the Space Coast Section of SWE, welcomed us to the meeting and her warm and friendly greeting set the tone for the conference. Ms. Gail Mattson gave the opening address updating the group on the recommendations of the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science,  Engineering, and Technology (CAWMSET). She indicated that the final recommendation of the CAWSMET report was to "Establish or identify a collaborative body to continue the efforts of the Commission through the development, coordination, and oversight of strong, feasible action plans". Within the Council on Competitiveness, a nonprofit organization with a mission to set an action agenda to drive U.S. economic competitiveness and leadership in world markets, a collaborative body designed BEST Building Engineering and Science Talent is to be established and support has already been pledged from several federal agencies. Information about BEST and the goals for the first year can be found on the Council on Competitiveness website (www.compete.org).

The second presentation was from Ms. Pamela Biegert, Chief, Education Programs and University Research Division at NASA, Kennedy Space Center, who outlined NASA's education goals and strategies as well as highlighting NASA's education and outreach programs. A variety of activities are available including new opportunities like an Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) and a Fundamental Biology Educational Outreach Programs. Ms. Rose Kemp, Regional Administrator Region VII U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, then shared with the group the goals and mission of the Women's Bureau and some history of the Bureau. A presentation by Dr. Martha Burk, Head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, on a multimedia CD-ROM on women in math, science, engineering, and computer science designed to be used a curriculum supplement for grades 6-12. The CD-ROM emphasizes contemporary women working in the field and includes a racially and ethnically diverse mixture of women. Initial funding for the project was from the U.S. Department of Education and supplemental funding and/or distribution agreements are being sought from organizations interested in the project (mbcapp@aol.com).

Following the formal presentations, the assembly was divided into small groups for networking discussion sessions. My group focused on mentoring and how we could work together towards providing mentoring opportunities for girls interested in engineering. Initial focus was on what was needed for a successful mentoring program and challenges that exist in establishing a program. Two initial collaborative activities were identified in which AIChE's WIC could play a valuable role. The first activity was with Girl's Incorporated, a nonprofit group focused on addressing the changing needs of girls and their communities (www.girlsinc.org). Girl's Incorporated provides web-based profiles on working engineers and scientists geared at interesting girls in science-based careers. Ten to twelve engineers willing to provide information about why they became chemical engineers, what they do, why they enjoy it, etc. are needed and should contact me (kforsten@vt.edu) to obtain information for the "interview". A similar activity with NASA highlighting chemical engineering and what they do is under discussion. The NASA project would involve doing a one hour live web interview which would provide a specific time when students could have questions answered "live" and would be highlighted with "interviews" with chemical engineers and chemists involved at NASA. Further information will be available on the WIC website as more details become available.

Discussions with Ms. Gail Mattson (SWE) and Ms. LeEarl Bryant (IEEE) indicated interest from both in linking with AIChE with regard to women and retention within engineering. Volunteers to work with representatives from these groups to find common activities are being sought and interested individuals should contact me (kforsten@vt.edu). One example of a joint retention project with SWE might be to offer reduced membership dues for individuals maintaining membership in both SWE and AIChE. A reduction in attendee rates for national meetings from "sister" organizations could also be pursued.

The Conference ended with an evening banquet hosted by the Space Coast Section of the Society of Women Engineers titled "Celebrating Women of Courage and Vision!". SWE members, Conference attendees, and students from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Florida Institute of Technology University joined together for this celebration of National Women's History Month and speakers included addresses by Ms. Leila Jammal Nodarse from Nodarse and Associates and Ms. Rose Kemp. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to visit with the undergraduates and learning what SWE activities are taking place on their campus. It was clear that the Space Coast Section had a good relationship with the campuses putting the mentoring activities we discussed during the conference in action.

Kimberly E. Forsten, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemical Engineering
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University