Guest post by SWEFL Caroline Ruth Hill

What started out as a section that could barely even call itself a section, now thriving on the campus of Mississippi State University, is a section with 50 national SWE members with additional regular attendees.  As recently as the spring semester 2014, our section had meetings with as little as three girls attending.  After seeing how staggeringly low our numbers were, I took it upon myself to get the funds together to allow a couple of us to go to the Region C Conference in Houston.  After attending conference, and after seeing how much SWE has to offer, we decided to make our section better.  We are women that want to succeed, and letting our section fizzle out just wasn’t going to cut it.

Improving our section took a great deal of leadership, and anyone who is an active member in SWE, or any organization, knows the importance of strong leadership.  After being elected section president, I was determined to make some changes.  I wanted to increase our numbers, not for the sake of having more people at our meetings, but for the sake of making my fellow female engineering students aware of the incredible organization that SWE is and of all of the incredible opportunities that come with being a part of it.  After getting my friends involved in SWE, who got their friends involved, and so on, our numbers slowly began to increase to the point of having 20 or more girls by the end of the spring 2014 semester.  Seeing this influx of attendance, I quickly realized how much work it would be to be president of a section that was growing at such a rapid pace.
As president, it is important to know when to lead and when to delegate.  Thankfully, my section is full of girls who were willing to step up in order to make our section the best it can be.  Our section now has the basic officers like president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer; but we also have a publicity officer and a volunteer/outreach officer who each focus on different ways to get our name more popular in the Mississippi State and region C areas. We also have departmental officers from each engineering discipline that act as a liaison between our section and their respective engineering departments.  Due to the additional officers, overall, our section has had much better communication with our student body and other engineering organizations, which has led to us having about 30 girls at each of our meetings and 50 members on the national level.
Improving at such a rapid pace was a lot of hard work, but thankfully our hard work did not go unnoticed.  Different companies like Halliburton, Southern Company, Georgia-Pacific, and Dow Chemical Company have reached out to our section showing a great deal of interest in us.  Some companies host meetings, running different workshops that help us prepare for the future.  For example, Halliburton sponsored a “What Not to Wear” meeting which informed us of the do’s and don’t’s of interview attire.  Dow Chemical Company sponsored a meeting that consisted of a speaker series, with different speakers telling about their experience working across different cultures, emphasizing the importance of embracing diversity.  Other companies, on the other hand, like Georgia-Pacific and Dow Chemical Company have been generous enough to donate to our section, which enabled nine of our members to attend the national conference in Los Angeles.
Though seeing our numbers improve is extremely encouraging, we put a great deal of emphasis on the quality of our members rather than the quantity.  Meaning that we focus on having members that believe in, support, and love the mission of SWE: stimulate women to achieve 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, and demonstrate the value of diversity.
{This was written not only to brag on the incredible strides that the girls in my section have made over the past few months, but to also inspire and encourage other sections that may be struggling with membership increase and retention.}