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U.S. Army Supports Advancing Women in STEM During the Society of Women Engineers’ 2017 National Conference

Nov 14, 2017

The U.S. Army took its commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education one step further by partnering with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) during the 2017 SWE National Conference. The SWE Conference is the world’s largest conference and career fair for women in engineering and technology.

From Oct. 26-28, more than 14,000 SWE attendees – all in various stages of their engineering careers – gathered at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, TX, to speak with Soldiers about career opportunities available in engineering fields.

Women are closing the gender gap in STEM fields, yet it is ever-important that this momentum continues – both in the civilian and military sectors. Today, women make up approximately 17 percent of the total Army and 20 percent of the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, one of the most esteemed engineering schools in the country.

On Thursday and Friday, the Army had an exhibit space at the SWE Career Fair, and on Saturday they had a booth space at the Invent It, Build It Expo. Both locations offered SWE attendees a chance to stop by and talk to Soldiers about scholarships, tuition assistance and STEM career paths available through the Army. Attendees also got to experience the Army’s technology capabilities first-hand by operating a robot. A highlight was when Mr. Richard Overton, the oldest living veteran, visited the Invent It, Build It Expo booth to show his support for the Army’s first year partnering with SWE. 

Captain Elizabeth Ramirez (left) and Captain Nathan Hutchison (right) speak with students about the abundant leadership and career opportunities within Army engineering fields at the Army’s exhibit space at the WE17 Career Fair. 

During the conference’s Emerging Leaders Institute Track, Lieutenant Colonel Sherry Oehler, a signals corps officer, told attendees how the training and leadership courses she received in the Army helped her achieve her career in STEM today. She explained that the career training she received through the Army gave her the confidence to lead others, even in situations where she was the only woman in the room.

Lieutenant Colonel Sherry Oehler speaks to students about her STEM career path in the Army and developing confidence to lead others during the Emerging Leaders Institute Track at the SWE Conference. 

The Army also led a Lightning Talk session titled, “Blasting Through Space: How The Army Rocketed My Engineering Career.” During the session, First Lieutenant Katherine Branham, a combat and aerospace engineer, shared how her experiences with robotics led her to a UN peacekeeping mission in Nepal. She specifically called out the opportunities she took advantage of as a female engineer in the Army and how she navigated difficult leadership situations. She also discussed how her Army training equipped her with the skills to be an inclusive leader and team member, building a culture of inclusion within both her civilian and military careers.

First Lieutenant Katherine Branham discusses her experiences as an Army combat and aerospace engineer during the Lightning Talk during the SWE Conference. 

The Army’s final event was participation on a Parent and Educator Panel titled, “Preparing for Engineering Success.” Lieutenant Colonel Sherry Oehler gave the audience insight on how they can help their daughters and students prepare for engineering careers. Lieutenant Colonel Oehler spoke about her experiences working with girls and women in STEM fields and specifically answered questions about the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. She also challenged parents to acknowledge gender bias and asked the women in the room what would have been helpful to hear from their parents as young girls.

Lieutenant Colonel Sherry Oehler speaks to parents about how they can support their daughters and students in pursuing engineering careers at the Parent and Educator Panel on Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Austin Convention Center. 

Conference attendees visit the Army’s exhibit booth at the Invent It, Build It Expo, where they had the opportunity to meet Mr. Overton, the oldest living WWII veteran.

Following the success of its first partnership with the Society of Engineers, the Army will continue its partnership for next year’s SWE Conference on Oct. 18-20, 2018 in Minneapolis, MN.

As the Army continues to look for qualified candidates to join its ranks, the SWE Conference provides an ideal platform to engage with students and professionals that can take the Army’s STEM capabilities even further. The Army hopes that through its new partnership with SWE, it can continue to expand the number of women in the Army – a number that has been steadily growing over the last few years.

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