Breaking boundaries — Student group aims to encourage and support women in engineering

The Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, has a unique place on the University of Idaho’s campus.

Its mission caters to a minority of students at UI — women in the  Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) field, SWE Vice President Shelby Linafelter said.

“The SWE mission is to stimulate women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life,” Linafelter said. “Our members are very passionate about empowering women to become engineers. You can see it immediately when you get one of us talking about it.”

Courtesy | Society of Women Engineers
Members of the Society of Women Engineers pose at the SWE Conference earlier this year.

Linafelter said the diversity of the group’s activities and events are what sets them apart from other groups on campus.

Earlier this year, SWE sent eight members to a national conference in Austin, Texas. Linafelter said the conference inspired the group and gave members new ideas to implement in coming years. Linafelter said the group is fortunate to have SWE Treasurer Christine Page by their side, who found sufficient funds to take so many club members to the conference.

“Our group is unique because we dedicate ourselves to creating a support system for women in STEM and a source of encouragement for girls to continue thinking they can do science, math and engineering while in school,” SWE Secretary Bethany Kersten said.

This fall, SWE hosted their 25th Women in Engineering Day event, which was designed to engage junior and senior in high schools in Idaho and Washington to learn more about engineering. Students received tours, attended educational talks and were challenged to create a water filtration system. Kersten said each team completed the challenge and created functioning contraptions. Kersten said her personal goal this year is to get SWE more involved in Moscow and the surrounding community.

“I love that we always do Women in Engineering Day in the fall, and I am so happy we are reaching out to local schools here in Moscow to put on smaller events,” Kersten said.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in the ThinkTank room of the Janssen Engineering Building, SWE will host Alexa Aguilar, a recent UI Electrical Engineering graduate, and current graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The group will talk with Aguilar over video chat and discuss MIT, being a grad student and tips she has for graduate school applications.

SWE is also planning an outreach event with elementary and middle school students, along with the group’s annual event, Dinner with the Dean, in April and another spring outreach event similar to Women in Engineering Day, Kersten said.

According to Linafelter, the group is currently seeking interest among all women engineering students on campus for a formal mentorship program. Their plan is to assign interested students to women engineers at Micron where mentors will help students set goals and create personal approaches to improving their skills.

Linafelter has many goals for the group this year, which include increasing membership and continuing the success they have produced from outreach events thus far. Kersten said the club is open and welcoming to all new members. According to Kersten, anyone who is an advocate for women in STEM fields is welcome to join, regardless of gender.

“We are always looking for new members,” Linafelter said. “Joining is easy — you can reach out to us by email, through social media (Facebook and Instagram), at tabling events or fairs, or by simply showing up to our meetings at 6 p.m. in the ThinkTank, every other Thursday.”

Elizabeth Marshall can be reached at


Correction: (Nov. 15, 2017)

Due to an Argonaut error, in the previous version of this article, Shelby Linafelter’s title was mislabeled as SWE President — she is the Vice President of SWE. 


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