Career advice, diversity, and opportunities for engineers and scientists were key topics Saturday at the Knoxville Convention Center as more than 350 high school and college students turned out for the first WomEngineers Day hosted by the College of Engineering.
Highlighted by speakers such as Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Lorraine Martin and Pratt and Whitney Military Engines President Bennett Croswell, the conference gave students a chance to hear from and talk to seasoned professionals in engineering and related fields.
“The support for WomEngineers Day within our college and the excitement for it among our attendees truly inspired us,” said Jessica Boles, a UT senior who helped bring about the event. “Engineering as a whole will soon be in the hands of our generation, and it’s up to us to responsibly shape its future.”
One of the big themes of the day was inclusiveness, with male and female students alike asking panelists and speakers about their experiences in the workplace and how to deal with problems when they arise.
Martin, who serves as project manager for Lockheed Martin’s highly visible F-35 program, related a particular story of bias from her early days as an Air Force officer.
One particular supervisor saw her preparing a report and told her she was learning skills that would serve her well as a PTA member later in life. She said she realized it wasn’t said with ill will, but that her supervisor honestly viewed her main worth as a future mom, not as the second lieutenant that she was.
The episode taught her a particular lesson about bias, one she impressed upon the attendees.
“Bias says more about them than it does you,” said Martin. “When you look at someone, don’t see their outward packaging, see what they bring to the table. What’s on the outside shouldn’t matter.”
The conference also offered up sessions on topics that weren’t specific to engineering, such as money planning, starting a business, and balancing work and family.
Students had the chance to break into smaller groups with the experts and ask them any number of questions, with the most frequent area of focus seeming to be how those experts got started in their field and how they assumed leadership roles.
“You don’t have to walk around with a shirt that says ‘I’m the leader,'” said Sabrina Hampton, a UT graduate who now is a liaison for Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC. “People know it by your actions.”
The day ended with discussions on ethics, an introduction to the College of Engineering at UT—attendees got a chance to bounce questions off college Dean Wayne Davis—and a panel on diversity in the workplace that featured UT quarterback and aerospace engineering major Joshua Dobbs.
“We hope the conversations begun on Saturday are continued among students and speakers alike,” said Boles. “That’s the only way for us to truly begin making an impact on our respective fields.”
All told, nineteen UT students helped facilitate the event, with the support of the College of Engineering’s Board of Advisors.
David Goddard (865-974-0683, firstname.lastname@example.org)