As the Founder and Director of GradSWE at Illinois, I directed the first annual weSTEM (Women Empowered in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on April 20, 2013. The goal of the this event was to provide a forum through which current and future STEM leaders could motivate and inspire each other to develop solutions for the next generation of technical and societal challenges.
We welcomed 14 accomplished female professionals in STEM to share their experiences and advice with the 60 female graduate student attendees . Noteworthy was the diversity featured among the speakers and students. Students from across 21 disciplines at the University of Illinois and a handful of other universities interacted with the speakers with advanced degrees who were at different stages in their careers in very different career paths.
[The] organizing committee did an outstanding job in planing and executing this event. You created an inspirational, relaxing atmosphere in which networking and interacting with other attendees as well as speakers was easy and natural. I have to applaud your attention to detail and the overall organization and schedule alike.
It was a very motivating conference. Due to my experiences in grad school so far, I was definitely on the edge of continuing or not and along the way, I had forgotten why it was that I wanted to pursue a further degree. The conference really helped me remember why I had worked so hard and come in the first place.
Every talk has empowered me to think that I can pursue whatever I put in my path as long as I persevere and focus on it.
I managed a committee of 7 graduate students who developed every aspect of the conference, notably:
- Fundraising: We raised over $40,000 from and corporate donations and grant funding, including nearly $10,000 from the SWE Professional Development Grant
- Conference Program: We welcomed speakers from around the United States, including Omnia El Hakim, the former Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the National Science Foundation, to give talks on their career paths and motivation for current graduate students
- Publicity and Logistics: The day-long, single-track conference was attended by over 60 graduate students from Illinois and other universities in the Siebel center for computer science
For a full summary of the first annual weSTEM conference, please read the Summary Article.
Since the first conference, weSTEM has become a growing annual annual conference with more attendees and sessions each year. Four successful conferences have been held at the University of Illinois as of April 2016 and the fifth is under development by the newly elected 2017 weSTEM Director. Please see the weSTEM website for news on past and upcoming conferences.