SWE goes to Washington

April 5th, 2018

Logo for Society of Women EngineersOver this spring break, three members of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) student chapter at the University of Louisville visited the nation’s capital as part of the Congressional Outreach Day event for SWE. The theme of the event was "Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation" and included members of the organization speaking with members of the federal legislative body to encourage growth in STEM fields, which concentrated on K-12 programs.

In attendance was Holly McTaggart, a former member of the SWE leadership and recipient of the Outstanding Collegiate Member Award last semester. McTaggert was accompanied by Lucy Kurtz, a sophomore Bioengineering major, and Raychel Bahnick, a sophomore in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, currently on co-op at the Army Corps. of Engineers.

Their mission was to obtain training in how to talk to congress and other people in political authority. Participants studied legislation that would impact SWE’s mission, specifically Title 4 part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which attends to block grants which can affect STEM programs.

Bahnick was impressed by the staff working with the members of congress that they met with. She explains, “it was more concerned citizens going to speak on behalf of SWE. We were talking about getting more diversity in STEM. We were talking about getting girls into STEM at a young age. SWE was great about it. They gave us training; they gave us a lot of representation.

She adds, “Their staff were great. They were really sweet. I learned that I shouldn’t have been nervous. It’s really about, when you go there and talk to someone, you really are just telling your story about it.”

An alumni of the Wendell Ford Statesmanship Academy, Kurtz, who is minoring in Political Science, spent the last semester interning for Addia Wuchner, a Republican member of the state House of Representatives and the chairwoman of the Health and Family Services Committee. There, she helped Wuchner with menial tasks, learning about the logistics of state politics and the legislative process along the way. It was that experience as well as her time in Bioengineering that encouraged her to go to Washington, a realization of the intersection between politics, engineering, and health.

“I think that as the field (of bioengineering) becomes more saturated with women in comparison from others, that we have the same representation.
 said Kurtz. "I hope that we (bioengineers) can serve as a model to close the gender wage gap. I’m hoping that my experience in seeing the direct interactions between constituents and politicians, that I can get an understanding in what consumers are represented.”

“I actually had a stark realization when I was there. I realized I had never met a female engineer until college," Bahnick said. "My dad is an engineer and there was never any woman. It’s serious. I’m from a small town in Kentucky. We didn’t have any engineering program.”