Karen Horton, a University of Maine associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, joined a group from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at a recent event at the White House that recognized local leaders in the effort to recruit and retain girls and women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
The recognition event was part of the Champions of Change program, which was created as a part of President Barack Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different issue is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community activists, are recognized for the work they are doing to better their communities.
Horton serves as the SWE government relations and public policy chair and participated in the event with other SWE leaders, along with officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and representatives from several federal agencies, in small group discussions with the champions and other notable guests from varying sectors and communities around engaging and supporting girls and women in STEM.
“SWE and its membership regularly inform policy makers about the educational and workplace best practices that can lead to greater diversity in the engineering career field, both to increase equity of opportunity in STEM careers and to improve U.S. competitiveness,” Horton said after the White House event. “We hope that the responsible federal agencies will make changes in their programs based on the ideas presented in the breakout sessions to expand girls’ interest in engineering, improve the retention of college women studying engineering and support career opportunities for women engineers. The recently implemented NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative, which incorporates gender-neutral, family-friendly policies, is an example of this.”
The sessions, which focused on changing the stereotypes of girls in the STEM fields, mentoring, and supporting and retaining women in the STEM workforce, were followed immediately by a larger event focused on amplifying best practices learned in each area.