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SWE Wisconsin Section 50th Anniversary Celebration – Recap

On Saturday, December 2, 2023, forty-four professional and collegiate Society of Women Engineers (SWE) members and supporters headed to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee campus, to the same building the Wisconsin professional section of SWE was chartered in, 50 years ago!  With long gowns and suits, attendees gathered for a celebratory luncheon, networking bingo and a formal presentation. Event leader Andrea Falasco spearheaded the effort and set the scene by decorating tables with pine boughs, twinkling lights and various award plaques the section had received throughout the years. 

SWE-WI section “herstorian” Betty Leonhard provided a non-stop pictorial slide show that included over 90 slides of section memorabilia from the past 50 years.  She highlighted events from the 1973 chartering year such as gas prices being 39 cents per gallon and McDonalds introducing their Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  She explained that SWE-WI was originally chartered as the Milwaukee SWE section, and years later expanded to the Wisconsin section where our territory currently encompasses most of the state of Wisconsin plus the upper peninsula of Michigan.

As Membership chair I shared some of my fondest memories as a SWE-WI member beginning with my term as section president, hosting the SWE annual conference in Milwaukee in 2004 while eight months pregnant with our third child; working with newsletter editor Andrea Cole and seeing the section receive the Best Newsletter Award; and challenging my outreach committee in 2006 to create a 6th grade essay contest. The essay contest asked students to create a vehicle that ran on items other than fossil fuels.  The committee stepped up to the challenge and contacted every public and private school in Wisconsin, and in return received over 100 essays!  Essay entries ran on everything from mower grass clippings to cheese (not too surprising on the cheese since it is Wisconsin!).  Awards were given for the best entries and members traveled to schools to make many of the presentations.  SWE-WI received the Connecting Educators to Engineering award during National Engineers Week that year, out of more than 200 professional sections.

I also recalled my interview several years ago with one of the SWE-WI charter members Elizabeth Bastian.  Elizabeth was the first woman to graduate with an engineering degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) (see attached photo). Elizabeth, along with Lillian Leenhouts (the first woman in WI to become a licensed architect and a SWE Fellow) along with others started the SWE section.

To conclude the program, I expressed why I have remain an active member of SWE. “Of all the working engineers in the United States, we are lucky if 14% of those are women; the number was 8% when I graduated in the 80’s. SWE is more timely now that ever.  You don’t need to be a woman or an engineer to join SWE.  If you want to see more women in the engineering workforce and in the classroom we encourage you to join SWE where a portion of your SWE dues goes directly back to your local SWE section to support incredible efforts like outreach, professional development and scholarships!”  I went on to recognize past section presidents, life members, past award recipients and presented certificates to 23 ladies who have more than 25 years of SWE membership.  Two members of note have more than 50 years of SWE membership:  Marcie Strahl has 52 years of SWE membership and spent many of those years in the aerospace industry.  Marilyn John has 50 years of SWE membership.  She served as SWE-WI president in 1982 and began her mechanical engineering teaching career at UW-Milwaukee in 1956.

We hope this event inspires other SWE sections to celebrate their chartering anniversary!

Written by SWE-WI Membership Chair
Susan Thomas Schlett  12/2023