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Swanson School faculty establish new Graduate Women in Engineering Network at Pitt

PITTSBURGH (May 15, 2014) ... A new network has been created at Pitt to help increase leadership roles for women in engineering and similar fields.

The Graduate Women in Engineering Network (GWEN) is a newly recognized student organization whose mission is to retain women in STEM fields, promote women in leadership capacities, and create an official network for women in engineering.

The network has held several events so far, including book clubs to promote discussion, a speed-networking event where faculty come in and network with students quickly, and guest lecturers.

Morgan Fedorchak, PhD, a research assistant professor for the department of chemical and petroleum engineering, said she thinks it is important to have an official, established network for graduate women.

"We want to retain women in STEM fields, where they might have left the field for various reasons," she said. "By establishing this new network, we're trying to nip that in the bud by helping support them at this level."

The network will meet periodically for both social and networking purposes, and also to discuss related issues of women being underrepresented in certain fields.

One upcoming event is a book club, where participating members in the network select a book to read and then discuss it in meetings.

"We get together as a group and have an informal discussion, and it's interesting sometimes what directions those discussions will go," Dr. Fedorchak said. "Sometimes they're not even focused on the book itself; the book just helps as a jumping-off point."
The Graduate Women in Engineering Network also plans to invite guest speakers such as Beth Holloway, the director of Purdue University's women in science and engineering program, who spoke recently on a number of diversity and inclusion issues.

Future network plans include at least one book club and one seminar speaker per semester, as well as potentially one larger event, like speed networking, per year.

Dr. Fedorchak has worked with Dr. Cheryl Bodnar to make this network possible. After speaking with Dr. Sylvanus Wosu, Associate Dean of Diversity Affairs at the Swanson School, they realized the need for a grounded and interactive program to support women in STEM.

Though she knew it would be a challenge to expand GWEN past the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department, where it originally started, Dr. Bodnar said they were confident with the resources they were provided.

"We felt that we would be well-supported from the resources that the Office of Diversity was willing to provide as well as the encouragement we received from our department chair," she said.

Dr. Bodnar said that one of the network's future goals is to collaborate more with other women's groups, including the Society of Women Engineers and the Campus Women's Organization.

"We have a very talented team of women that have been working hard at building up this community," Dr. Bodnar said. "Within STEM fields in particular, women rarely attain leadership positions. While there are incredible women executives in the public and private sectors, they are often the exception and not the rule. Unless we provide women with the training that allows them to build their leadership assets and feel confident in their own capabilities, the situation will not change."

Dr. Fedorchak is encouraged by the increasing turnout of women in GWEN. Of the approximately 200 women graduate students in engineering, about 40 come to events and actively participate, but that number has been growing.

While the program was originally designed for just women in engineering, Dr. Fedorchak said that in the future they may try to increase the network's scope.

"We've had interest from the School of Medicine and other departments where women are underrepresented," she said. "We have plans to expand it but it's so new that we don't want to overextend yet. We've also considered helping to establish a chapter at another local university like Carnegie Mellon, to further expand and strengthen our network."