Collegiate Director’s Letter

Last month, I mentioned how excited I was to participate in my first Capitol Hill Day and Congressional Visit with SWE, so I wanted to share more about my experiences. I have always been interested in how public policy fits into changing the equation for STEM education and diversity in engineering, and this was an amazing opportunity to act on that interest.

In high school, civics classes required students to complete a project that would benefit the local community. I decided to base my project on the improvement of local STEM educations. I had already seen a lack of female teachers and role models in STEM, and my peers often found math and science ‘boring’ and ‘uncool.’ I knew it was important to inspire and maintain interest from a young age, so I set out to make math and science more fun and exciting to elementary school students.  My personal experience told me that while hands-on experiments and demonstrations were a great way to learn and remember math and science concepts, little time went towards hands-on learning in our local classrooms. I went to work planning fun experiments that fit into the curriculum. At the same time, I started doing research on educational requirements, curricula and standardized testing. I was surprised to learn that some requirements had not been updated in over 100 years. Surely our educational needs have changed over the past hundred years. It was then that I began to realize that outreach is only half of the equation; it must go hand in hand with public policy when it comes to making an impact.

It has been eight years since my high school project, and I have continued my involvement in K-12 outreach throughout. Getting involved in public policy took a bit longer, though. I originally discounted my ability to make an impact on public policy. Most people don’t take 15 year old girls seriously, which is a problem of its own. Over time, however, I have built up my credentials, knowledge, tool kit and confidence to the point where I do expect to be taken seriously and can act as an authority on STEM education and diversity in engineering.

No matter where you are in that process, participating in Capitol Hill Day is sure to be a rewarding experience. The great thing about Capitol Hill Day is that SWE will arm you with all of the tools and knowledge you need to feel confident and able to make an impact. Before I had my congressional visits, I got to learn from more experienced people who had participated in congressional visits before, and practiced with role plays. We got to hear the perspective of representatives and their staffers, to understand what they are looking for and what difference our visits could make. I went to my first congressional meeting by myself, and after that great day of training, I definitely felt fully prepared. Afterward I went with fellow board member Jonna Gerken to meet with the CT Senators’ staff, and we had some great conversations there as well.

All of the congressional staff we met with had genuine interest in what we had to say, in our experiences and in our opinions on how to create change for the better. Every meeting was truly a conversation between both parties, not just some SWE members rattling off some facts.  Though I will say that some of the facts were eye-opening for some of the staffers—it is hard to get a sense of the inequality and lack of diversity in STEM if you aren’t living it yourself. Our meetings opened the door to a continued partnership, which is exactly the hope for where Capitol Hill Day can lead. I had a great experience at my first Capitol Hill Day, and it is something that I highly recommend everyone should participate in at least once. Sharing your experiences as women in engineering and showing your support for diversity and education initiatives can make a real difference. The more policy makers hear from us, the more difference we can make. And Capitol Hill Day certainly isn’t the only way to make your voice heard, you can also make a huge difference locally. When your school system proposes getting rid of Algebra II as a required course, you are undoubtedly an authority on its value. Together, our small impacts will create big change.

Ellen McIsaac

Ellen McIsaac
FY14 Collegiate Director

Letter from the All Together SWE Newsletter


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