19:00 PM

A guiding star for stronger representation in engineering

Recent graduate Emma Ahlgren is one of 15 students to receive a SWE Guiding Star Award

The National Society of Women Engineers (SWE) considers itself “a catalyst for change for women.” And for Emma Ahlgren BSMEMS ‘22, the award-winning University of Pittsburgh SWE chapter was the catalyst to help her discover her own potential as a student leader and future engineer.

Algren joined SWE at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering ostensibly for networking, shared interests, and support. Along the way, her focus on SWE’s mission to build community and inspire a new generation of engineers would result in national recognition. 

Because of her involvement with the organization, Ahlgren is one of 15 collegiate members receiving a Guiding Star Award. recognizing those who have made an outstanding contribution to SWE, its partner organizations, the engineering community, and their campus. Ahlgren was nominated for the award by Laura Traczynski, the Pitt SWE counselor and Ahlgren’s former mentor. 


“I’m very grateful for this recognition, and most of all, for the support and opportunities I had throughout my time at Pitt,” Ahlgren said. “I came to Pitt without a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my engineering degree. Because of organizations like SWE and the faculty and staff at the Swanson School, I felt fully encouraged to explore my interests.” 

A pivotal experience for Ahlgren was participating in SWE++, an educational outreach program that teaches middle school girls how to code Python. Ahlgren became heavily involved in the program, both leading and organizing it. Her passion for SWE++ manifested when she realized she didn’t have any role models in her program. 

“Everyone in my classes and co-ops was very friendly, but you can still feel isolated and unsure of yourself when there is no one in the room that looks like you,” Ahlgren said. “That’s something that I really tried to change throughout the many outreach programs I did with SWE, by giving younger girls a role model in whom they feel represented.” 

Outside of SWE, Ahlgren developed a passion for being in medical environments after completing the co-op program and working as a biomedical technician in the Artificial Heart Program at UPMC. She explored that passion further as an undergraduate researcher in Professor David Vorp’s Vascular Bioengineering Lab. Her project focused on a potential way to better diagnose and treat abdominal aortic aneurysms by investigating the relationship between density and biomechanical properties of aortic tissue. 

Because of her research, Ahlgren was selected to give a poster presentation at the 2022 Biomedical Engineering Society Conference. Vorp, associate dean for research & John A. Swanson professor of bioengineering, also nominated Ahlgren for the award and noted that the recommendation letter was easy to write. 

“Emma has gone above and beyond the average engineering student,” Vorp said. “I suspect she won’t be an ordinary engineer as she embarks on what will surely be a rewarding career.” 

Ahlgren recently accepted a position as a clinical specialist with Medtronic on their Cardiac Rhythm Management team where she’ll be working with pacemakers and defibrillators. 

“I never saw myself as someone who would enjoy working in a healthcare setting,” Ahlgren said. “At first, I just loved learning about medical devices, and seeing how foundational engineering concepts could be applied to the human body. Then, as I began working more in the hospital, it was really fascinating and fulfilling to see the direct benefit that medical technology can have on people’s lives."