Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke

Author: Kyla Hunter

Duke’s Women Engineers Conquer a Texas-Sized Career Fair

Sticky post

I never would have imagined a scenario where a blazer, a folder of 30 resumes, and a cowboy hat were all packed together in the same suitcase.

Yet these are the items I found sprawled across my floor on the eve of Wednesday, October 20, as I prepared to fly to Houston to attend the 2022 Society of Women Engineers Conference in Houston, Texas.

Members of the Duke Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers attend the annual conference in Houston, Texas. (I’m third from left in front row)

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is an international organization that empowers and advocates for women in engineering and technology. Founded in 1950, SWE is on a mission to establish engineering as an attractive profession to women, and provide the resources and opportunities necessary for them to pursue it. Through training programs, scholarships, and outreach, SWE builds leadership skills, creates opportunities, and promotes inclusion. The global network of women engineers across all ages and disciplines creates a valuable support system for underrepresented individuals in engineering.

The SWE conference is the world’s largest conference for women in engineering and technology. It has occurred on an annual basis ever since 1951 when the first convention was held in New York City. In the past few years, the SWE conference has been known to attract 8,000+ attendees, continuously growing and breaking attendance records.

Duke SWE members land in Houston airport after a three hour flight from Durham, eagerly anticipating the start of the conference the next morning.

Like many colleges, Duke has a SWE student chapter, and every year takes people to the national conference. This year, 22 students were able to attend the three-day conference, with their flights and hotel costs covered.

The weekend was full of inspirational keynote speakers, carefully crafted workshops, and endless opportunities to meet powerful and impressive female engineers from across the country. For the Duke students, the weekend was additionally a meaningful bonding experience, and a significant moment in the pursuit of our academic and professional goals.

For many attendees, the main event is the career fair, which takes place during the first and second days of the conference. Not having any experience at a nationwide conference, I was expecting an event similar to your average college career fair: cardboard posters on folding tables. This could not have been further from the truth for the SWE conference!

Companies had massive set-ups, towering displays, signs hanging from the ceiling, carpeting laid out underneath, tables and chairs, and a dozen employees representing the same company. The room itself was so big you couldn’t see one end from the other side. 

The career fair, which spans two days of the conference, is a main component of the conference for many attendees. With over 300 companies in attendance, there were plentiful opportunities for internships, jobs, and networking.

Crowds began to gather for half an hour before the fair began. Once the doors opened, the waves of people surged in and immediately dispersed, weaving between the booths and racing to their first destination. 

After separating from my peers and walking around a bit to get a feel for the environment, I gave myself a pep talk, pulled one resume out of my folder, and walked up to my first booth. After scanning a QR code to register, I was asked about my major and then directed to the right employee to talk to.

She scanned over my resume for about twenty seconds before slapping a post-it note on it, handing it to a man behind her, and instructing me to “go with him.”

Along with a few other nervous students, the man began leading us on a walk past all the booths. We reached the end of the room and kept walking, through a small opening in a big partition that stretched across the entire room. On the other side, we emerged into a much quieter atmosphere: an equally large room full not of booths, but of curtains. Dozens of rows of small rooms, created by curtain partitions, were set up for each company. After being directed to yet another person, I was brought inside one of the ominous curtain rooms for a spontaneous 15 minute interview.

I had heard from peers that on-site interviews are often conducted, but I was not prepared for the spontaneous and vastly accelerated nature of the process. After the interview, I was released back into the career fair to race to the next booth.

Almost every student left the conference with some level of success.

Throughout the day, constant messages were shot through various group chats announcing updates, interviews, new contacts, and other exciting revelations. It was easy to lose track of each other throughout the fair, but every notification felt like a wave of breaking news.

The conference is supposed to be an accelerated recruitment process – many people made connections or discovered opportunities that may lead to eventual jobs or internships. In an environment that was so uplifting and supportive of women, it was easy to celebrate each other’s victories, and be reminded that one person’s success was shared by all of us.

Duke women in engineering across grades and disciplines bond and relax over dinner after a long day at the conference.

While the first night at the hotel was spent mostly frantically preparing for interviews the next day, the second and third nights allowed plenty of time for group outings and exploring the city of Houston.

Whether looking for internships or full-time opportunities, female engineering students at Duke were brought together across grades and disciplines to share in an incredibly inspirational and memorable weekend. Through the highs and lows of the weekend, we were able to participate in the same shared experiences: stressing over interviews, navigating networking, and exploring our futures as engineers.

And, of course, one more extremely monumental memory from the trip was pretending to be part of a bachelorette party on the flight home (good thing we brought a cowboy hat!).

By Kyla Hunter, Class of ’23

Meet the Power Tools Pro Who Keeps Students Safe While They Learn by Doing

Sticky post

When engineering student Katie Drinkwater signed up for the Machine Shop Tools Mastery Unit for her Engineering 101 class, she was completely unsure about what to expect. As a freshman with no prior experience, she felt intimidated by the prospect of stepping foot into a place with such powerful and potentially dangerous machinery. Now a senior in Pratt and a member of Duke Motorsports, Drinkwater has since become much more comfortable spending time around lathes, bandsaws and other power equipment. Along with many other members of the Duke community, she attributes much of her positive experience to the guidance and support of Duke Machine Shop Manager, Steve Earp.

The Welcome Night at the Student Machine Shop is an open-house event early in the semester that introduces new students into all that the Duke student machine shop has to offer.

“When I went in to make my first part, I was very nervous and intimidated,” Drinkwater says. “I thought that I would be expected to know how to use the machines, but this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Steve helped my partner and me with every step but didn’t infringe on our ownership of the project. I always feel free to ask questions and check in with Steve, but I am still expected to do my own work.”

Drinkwater isn’t alone. “Steve is definitely a friendly face you can rely on in the Pratt student shop. His vast skills and experience are one thing, but being able to teach people new to the shop in such an engaging way sets him apart. Steve has helped me make custom tools, solve problems that seemed impossible, and has helped me learn something new every time I walk into the shop,” says John Smalley, ME ‘23 and president of Duke Aero Society.

Managing the Student Shop for nearly 15 years, Earp is a vital and beloved mentor to all students that frequent the shop. Not only responsible for the set-up, organization, and operation of the shop, Earp also ensures that thorough safety practices are properly established and upheld. Part of this dedication to safety involved spearheading a brand new initiative: The Student Shop Managers Consortium. 

Steve Earp (left), Jennifer Ganley, Connor Gregg, Alexandra Gray, Greg Bumpass, Josh Klinger (right) gather to show new students around the machine shop during the Welcome Night.

In 2013, following a tragic accident at Yale University that involved the death of a student using the student machine shop, Earp became determined to take action to ensure no such incidents ever occur again. “I started investigating, and trying to find other people that do my job at other universities,” he explained. After sending out an email to dozens of other engineering schools, Earp was left with no responses. However, he refused to let this deter him. “I had to drill down over the next two years and find that one guy or gal that operates and manages that shop,” he recalls. One by one, Earp built a network across the country, eventually organizing and hosting the first conference here at Duke University in 2015 with about 65 student shop managers. Earp recalls the positive feedback from all the attendees, revealing that this was the first time these individuals with the same job had been able to communicate with those in similar positions: “nobody ever knew that there was somebody like them somewhere else.” Since then, the conference has occurred on an annual basis, hosted by different universities from Yale to Washington University in St. Louis, and even virtually during the pandemic. Most importantly, this network has allowed for more conversation and accountability in making student safety a priority. Demonstrating his passion for student shops and commitment to student safety, Earp was recently named the President of this organization. 

The emphasis on safety is something Drinkwater has experienced since the first time she stepped in the shop to complete her Tools Mastery assignment. “A machine shop can be a very dangerous environment — something Steve knows from personal experience — so he and Greg take safety training very seriously,” she explains. “They want every student to respect the environment without being afraid of it.” After completing the very thorough online and in-person components of the safety training, Drinkwater felt proud to pick up her shop badge. In a sentiment echoed by all of the engineering community, Drinkwater concludes, “I feel very lucky to have Steve as our shop manager. His wealth of experience, genuine interest in students’ learning, and good-humored disposition are extremely valuable additions to the Pratt community.”

By Kyla Hunter, ’23

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén