Trudging our bags to the meeting point in front of the volleyball court at the MTCC at 6 a.m. was not how I imagined I’d start my Friday, but here I was, sleepily rubbing my eyes and wearing the comfiest socially acceptable clothes I could find. The 24 of us split into a number of Uber XLs and made our way to union station to board the train that would take us to St. Louis, Missouri for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Local Conference of the year. The five and a half hour trip was alright, definitely better than the 33-hour ones I have to take to get to Chicago at the very least, but we were all sufficiently drowsy when we disembarked at St Louis. Getting to the hotel at last, we definitely wanted a chance to freshen up before we made our way to the conference.
After lunch, we split up into various tiny groups depending on which session we’d like to attend for the day and wandered off in different directions. Personally, I’m not sure what I expected to see at these sessions. I’d imagined that there might be a couple of really old women who were talking about their experiences at the front of the room in a darkened kind of lecture hall and boy was I surprised! The sessions were being conducted by women from all sorts of different backgrounds. These were women at the pinnacles of their careers and women who seemed to have it all. I attended two sessions on the first day where the first one talked about making your own in a male-dominated industry and the second was a panel discussion with four talented women from Emerson on balancing a career with a family. There was so much to learn from these highly passionate and driven young women. They had gone out and made a name for themselves despite all odds in industries where no one wanted to take them seriously and they’d done it well. Some of them had done it while raising children of their own and they had imparted upon their daughters the same wisdom that they were now passing onto us – speak up and be heard and never let someone take advantage of the work you put in.
The highlight of the first day of the conference though was the SWE Local celebration which featured an opportunity for women to network and speak to the inspiring women that had led the sessions to take some advice and mentorship of their own. This celebration had some games and a delicious array of foods ranging from mini-quesadillas to chocolate cupcakes. The second day of the conference was a Career Fair where more than 30 different companies had set up tables around the room. There were openings for a number of technical positions in a variety of different engineering disciplines and many of the attendees from Illinois Tech were offered interviews or opportunities at this fair.
It was an upsetting moment when we had to get back on the train and make our way to Chicago because within the span of a couple days, we’d managed to learn so much and have such a great time. I, for one, am definitely looking forward to the Local Conference that comes up next!