This spring, the Women & Engineering initiative at the McKelvey School of Engineering celebrated the graduation of its first cohort of students through its Leadership Credential. Students who are members of the Women & Engineering Leadership Society were eligible to earn the credential, which launched in 2019.
“The Leadership Credential is a way for students to distinguish themselves and show that, not only do they belong in engineering, but they can excel as leaders,” said Emily Boyd, teaching professor of mechanical engineering & materials science. “We wanted to provide a more comprehensive, well-rounded structure to our programming that would prepare our students to hit the ground running at their first jobs and thrive in their careers.”
Through the credentialing program students are provided opportunities for career and leadership development through events such as the annual Women & Engineering Leadership Summit and engagement with a mentor.
Rachel Blow, a Dual Degree master's student studying chemical engineering and a graduate of the program, had no background in engineering and wasn’t sure of her place in the field. Blow, who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Providence College, said she took part because she was eager to build up her network.
“Since the program pairs you with a mentor, I thought it would be a great way to learn what chemical engineers were about and what they do,” Blow said.
Blow’s mentor is Kathy Krupp, who earned a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the engineering school at WashU in 1981.
“I had a desire to give back to WashU Engineering, and this was a great opportunity,” Krupp said. “Throughout my career, I was always very passionate about mentoring others.”
While the program doesn’t have set rules on how often students and mentors must meet nor which topics to discuss, it does provide much-needed structure to the experience. Participants are matched by the program’s organizers and connected through the WashU CNX platform. The goal is that students and their mentors will form strong connections organically.
“If you want to give back to McKelvey Engineering, this is the way to do it,” Krupp said. “You don’t have to figure it out. The platform exists, and the resources are there.”
Kaela Evans, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 2021, also expressed an appreciation for the community of peers the program cultivates.
“There is such a lack of women in STEM that it’s very important that we stick together and stand up for each other,” Evans said. “When we do that, it allows us to show that we know what we’re talking about.”
Sam Hudson, a master’s student studying mechanical engineering, shared those sentiments.
“It’s good to check in with your peers, see what everyone is doing and celebrate,” Hudson said. “It can be easy to feel as if you're speaking for all women or competing with other women in the room, so it's nice to celebrate each other and be encouraged by each other.”
Ten students made up the first graduating cohort, but Boyd hopes to increase that number as students return to campus and in-person events resume. The student participants highly recommend the program to other students.
“Imagine being a part of a group of women whom you can identify with and being able to have that support system throughout the rest of your time in college,” Evans said. “Imagine having a mentor who has the same major as you and has been through what you went through. Wouldn’t you want to make that connection and further advance yourself?"
Krupp, as well as many of the students, say that while industry has gotten better, there’s still progress to be made.“I went to work in 1981, and I have a number of experiences where I was the only woman on a leadership team of 50,” Krupp said. “The whole focus and the broader focus of diversity of inclusion in industry is very important.”