NU Student Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers Wins Gold Mission Award
Over the course of her time at Northeastern University, Sofia Catalina, E’20, chemical engineering, has gone from feeling directionless to president of the university’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) student chapter. Recently, the student group received the Gold Mission Award from the national SWE organization. This honor is given to SWE groups that embody the organization’s core values of integrity, inclusivity, mutual support, professional excellence, and trust, and demonstrate continuous improvement in their efforts. Sixteen members of the student organization will accept the award in November at the WE19 conference in Anaheim, CA.
When Catalina first came to Northeastern, she had no idea what she wanted to do. Like many undergraduates, she picked her major almost at random. “I honestly kind of did it because most of the smart girls I was graduating with did engineering,” she says, laughing, “and I was like, ‘I’m a smart girl.’”
It was only when she attended her first meetings with the Northeastern student chapter of SWE that she began to narrow her field of vision on a specific professional path. She says the support and guidance of the women in the group was integral to her success during her formative first year at the university. Through attending SWE meetings and engaging in co-op experiences at Nuvera Fuel Cells in Billerica, MA, Form Energy in Somerville, MA, and Tesla in Palo Alto, CA, she found her academic, research, and career focus in energy storage for renewable energy. Now, as president of the SWE student chapter, she’s working to pass that kind of critical support and guidance on to other young women who join engineering programs at Northeastern.
Membership in the student chapter of SWE doesn’t just provide general guidance on how to navigate the ins and outs of being a Northeastern student, of course. As the name implies, it’s a student organization with a mission very much geared toward the experience of being a woman in a field that continues to lag behind in gender equality. Past meetings have focused on such topics as how to contend with sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination both at school and in the workplace.
Catalina gives multiple “shout-outs” to the student chapter’s executive board for the achieving the Gold Mission Award. She credited the cooperation, skills, and solidarity of all the women in the organization for the recognition. And despite the honor, Catalina isn’t resting on her laurels. She says there’s still a long way to go toward increasing the diversity of students in SWE and STEM education in general, so she’s made that one of the key goals of her presidency.
“We’re having meetings that are interesting for all kinds of people, at all levels of skill and education, to make sure we’re seeing more inclusivity in terms of minority women,” she says. “We want this to be a group that’s supportive of all women, no matter your background.”