WomEngineers Day, to be held at the Knoxville Convention Center on April 11, aims to bring together people interested or involved in engineering and other STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—fields of study.
While most attendees will be from UT’s College of Engineering, the invitation extends to students at local high schools and at other universities.
And don’t let the name fool you: Organizers feel that one of the keys to a more welcoming, inclusive environment is bringing men and women together, thus the conference is open to all.
“Everyone can benefit from the topics that will be covered,” said Jessica Boles, the event’s lead coordinator and a senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “The goal is to educate students in professional and personal topics not found in the engineering classroom.
“Engineering executives, experts, and iconic alumni are coming in to talk on things like mentoring, negotiating your salary, and how to decide between entering the workforce and beginning graduate school.”
The idea for the conference came about after Boles and others attended professional conferences through their roles at UT.
While the information in those events proved valuable, the cost to attend—sometimes $400 or more—prohibited most from attending if sponsorship wasn’t an option.
Boles said she wanted to find a way to make such an experience more available while maintaining the high caliber of speakers and topics of a regular engineering conference.
She and fellow student Alyx Wszolek had a chance to talk to College of Engineering Board of Advisors chairman Eric Zeanah and board member Bennett Croswell during their fall meeting, with both showing immediate interest in the idea.
“When we met with them and talked about issues some students face, they basically asked what they could do to help,” said Boles. “I shared this dream I’d had for awhile and they said ‘Let’s do it.’
“We’re extremely fortunate to have their encouragement and support.”
One of the big issues that the conference hopes to address is the low number of women and underrepresented—African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander—students in STEM-related fields.
To help address that issue organizers turned to someone who has great familiarity with both UT and the business world—Denise Koessler Gosnell, who received her PhD in computer science from UT’s College of Engineering last year.
Gosnell can bring the unique experience of having founded Systers, a group for women in engineering, while a student at UT, as well as the professional experience of being recruited by companies like Microsoft and Apple. She now works for PokitDok, a company that helps customers connect online with medical professionals.
“WomEngineers day means creating visibility and opportunity for women in STEM fields,” said Gosnell. “UT has provided support to ignite groups within various departments, but ultimately we need to see the numbers change.
“We need to talk about what is working and what isn’t working.”
Gosnell pointed out that progress is being made, but that there are still key questions to be answered, such as how to recognize and remove bias in areas where it might not be so obvious and how soon changes in philosophy become changes in reality.
The conference will be limited to the first 500 to register, due to space. Registration is now open at WomEngineersDay.com.
David Goddard (865-974-0683, firstname.lastname@example.org)