Graduate Member Spotlight: Danielle Shaffer

Graduate Member Spotlight

Danielle Shaffer

Part-Time Non-Thesis Master of Science

Mechanical Engineering

December 2020

University of Akron


Danielle has recently joined the societal GradSWE team as the Professional Graduate Team Lead, and will be leading our efforts in providing part-time and non-traditional graduate students in the resources they need to excel! She has been an active member of the Society of Women Engineers since 2011 and is currently a member of the Northeastern Ohio Professional Section., Danielle attended her first annual conference at WE18, representing her company at the job fair, and attended her first local conference this year in Baltimore.


Danielle is currently employed at BWX Technologies as a Tooling Engineer. She works with the mechanical structural design of fixtures, jigs, tools, etc. to support the manufacture of the company’s products, heavy pressure vessels. Danielle is also extensively involved with below-the-hook rigging on the overhead cranes and one of the first fully automated 6-axis robot in the plant. After completing her ME Master’s degree and Structural Engineering certificate, Danielle plans to obtain her Professional Engineering license.  


Research Topic: Analysis of U-Shaped Lifting Lugs


Danielle’s manufacturing plant primarily uses a non-typical lifting lug made out of a bent rod, instead of only plate lugs. Plate lugs have been heavily studied, but limited analysis has been performed on U-shaped lifting lugs. The original design report was made by a former member of her department in the 1970s, prior to the widespread implementation of FEA software. Danielle’s Master’s report will focus on performing an FEA analysis of multiple rigging angles to better understand how the angles affect the overall capacity of each lug size. She will also determine the composite factor of safety, which was not solidly determined in the original design report.


Outside of her job and studying, Danielle enjoys sailing and volunteering on a tall ship, The Brig Niagara. She is also an active volunteer on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You can find Danielle participating in triathlons and bike tours. She also enjoys sewing, reading and chasing her two cats, Bowline and Spur, around her house in an attempt to keep them out of trouble.


Fun Fact: Danielle has sailed on all five Great Lakes!

WE18 Headshot


I Don’t Want to Choose! Balancing a Career and Graduate School

Hello! My name is Danielle, and I’m the newly appointed Professional Graduate Team Leader! I’ll be publishing blog posts on life as a part-time or professional student. You can learn more about me in my Graduate Student Spotlight. While most of the Grad SWE community is made of full-time students, I know you non-traditional students are out there! I’m always open to learning the stories of part-time, MBA, MD, or other students that might be juggling just a bit too much with graduate school. And here’s to my first post…

The Non-Traditional Graduate Student

When preparing to graduate from their undergraduate education, young engineers are tasked with the first major hurdle into their careers: jump right into their field or continue to graduate school? Certain career paths require a graduate degree at a minimum, giving a clear answer. Other people may never want to sit in a classroom again.

My Journey to Graduate School

There remains a group of people in the middle- wanting to enter the professional world yet still yearning for a graduate degree. I found myself in that group in 2015. I had a goal of obtaining a Master’s degree; yet, I was anxious to start my career and start raking in that early experience. I began my job and learned my company had a tuition reimbursement program. A fellow coworker pointed me towards a local university with an evening, non-thesis graduate program. I resisted at first. Degrees at any level are a large commitment, and I was about to devote 3 to 5 years of life to this. Positive peer pressure won, and I entered graduate school in Fall 2016, funded by my employer.

The Professional Student

Universities are starting to give more notice to non-traditional students, providing additional programs, adjusted schedules, and support services. It’s no longer unheard of to be pursuing a Master’s degree without a research focus.  These programs are designed for working engineers without research goals, looking to further their education while still working full or part-time. Other students may be interested in these programs due to the time constraints of childcare or other life circumstances keeping them from the “traditional” graduate school model.

Students looking for a classroom-based school can now find flexible work schedules or evening-based programs. With the increase in online Master’s programs, it is becoming more accessible for any engineer to attend graduate school.  Engineers may also be interested in the expanding number of online MBA degrees.

Picking the Right Job

Not every job is a good fit for aspiring professional students. If an engineer’s goals include a part-time Master’s program, here are potential things to look for in a job:

Tuition Reimbursement Program

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to assist employees with further education related to their jobs. As of 2019, the United States IRS allows employers to provide up to $5,250 in tax-free fringe benefits for qualifying educational expenses (including tuition and fees). Many companies cap the yearly benefit at the same $5,250 level. Tuition reimbursement in non-US based jobs may vary.

Ask these questions to potential or current employers:

  • What is the requirement for receiving the benefits (e.g. full-time employee, minimum time with the company, etc.)?
  • Will I be required to work for the company a period of time to avoid repayment of the money? (Many employers require one or more years of continuing employment with the company, or the employee may be required to repay the tuition.)
  • How closely related does the program need to be to my current position? (e.g. Can I use the program to gain experience for another department?)
  • Do I have to be in full degree program, or can I take individual courses? (Employees may be interested in only one class and not a full degree.)
  • What specific fees and expenses are reimbursable? (Some employers may not reimburse things like books and parking passes.)
  • What grade is required for full reimbursement? (Some employers require above a certain grade, such as a “C.” Other employers give a laddered decrease in full reimbursement for anything less than an “A.”)

Flexible Schedule

Unfortunately, some jobs are too time-intensive for even online school. If your future employer will require 80 plus hours a week in the office, you might not have time for school. Some managers may also be upset if you have to leave the office every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:00 PM sharp to make your class.  If your program is only offered during traditional school hours, a standard 9 to 5 schedule will be difficult.

Ask these questions to potential employers:

  • Is flextime offered? (You may be able to work non-standard hours or work on the weekend to reach your weekly hourly quota.)
  • How stable is the work schedule? (A stable work schedule is vital for classroom or scheduled online classes. Overtime projects can interfere with making it to school on time or at all.)
  • Is there any option for a 9-80 or 8-80 schedule? (A 9-80 schedule gives every other Friday off, and an 8-80 schedule gives every Friday off – beneficial for homework time and meeting with professors.)

Manager Support

Having your future or current manager as a supporter of your education will make your educational goals much more obtainable. A supportive boss will understand that you need to make it to your 5:30 class on Tuesday, so you will work on that big overtime project on Monday and Wednesday evening.

Ask these questions to potential employers:

  • Are there any members of the team or others in the company that obtained degrees part-time? (This is a good indication of if the company culture supports part-time students.)
  • Have a general discussion with your future or current boss on your educational goals. Most managers will view this as a desire to learn, which is vital for any engineer.

You Can Do This!

If you have a dream of earning a Master’s degree, it is never too late. Graduate school is not only for the freshly graduated 22-year old with full research funding. New programs and employer support are allowing non-traditional students to obtain higher level degrees. Whether your goal is a technical or business degree, there is a combination of jobs and education programs that will allow you to reach your next degree.


What WE Local Attendees Say about WE Locals?

I am Kazi Tasneem, WE Local Liaison in GradSWE Leadership Team. Last month I attended WE Local Tampa as a Collegiate Member. During my graduate studies, I attended many conferences and presented my research several times. Yet, attending WE Local appeared interestingly one of the most effective ones for networking with knowledgeable professionals and other collegiate members. It was a great opportunity to meet people from academia and industries and to have one-on-one interaction. In a very intimate setting like the WE Local conferences, you will get enough time to get to know people. I was able to connect with people instantly via LinkedIn while sitting and chatting together!

Graduate Collegiate Competition:

The best part of my WE Local experience was the Graduate Collegiate Competition where I delivered a lightning talk and presented a poster. While preparing for the competition, I had to learn how to present concisely and at the same time interestingly to the broader audience. Getting feedback from the judges was very useful and helped me understand what I should focus more on next time I present. It was a detailed judging on posters and talks under different criteria – visual presentation and/or speaking style, technical content, supporting figures, results, and conclusions, contribution and applicability, and completeness. Mujan Seif, our Graduate Program Chair, attended WE Local in 2018 and 2019 and she shared the same feeling. She echoed that the judges’ feedbacks from the collegiate competition talks are really meant to get insight where you can make yourself better. In addition to that, participation in the collegiate competition facilitates partial funding as a finalist of a collegiate competition to attend your WE Local. You should not miss a chance to attend a WE Local conference! Our GradSWE Member Coordinator Carolyn Chlebek attended the WE Local Providence last year. She highly encourages local graduate students to attend WE Local. “If the cost to travel to the conference and potential to obtain lodging fits in your budget, you should absolutely attend!”, she said.

Career Fair:

Let me share my experience and thoughts about Career Fair. As a graduate student I was little concerned about that the career fair would be tailored more towards undergrads. So, I decided to visit the stands I was interested in and instead of simply uploading my resume to their system, I reached out to the company person at the stand and expressed my interest in particular area of the company. Later I connected with them in LinkedIn so I could follow up with them for forwarding the graduate resumes to relevant departments. This slow-paced one-on-one interaction won’t be possible in the SWE Annual meeting because of its pretty overwhelming crowd. I really found it a great way to utilize the small sized Career Fair at WE Local.

Breakout Sessions:

We had a wonderful experience of meeting past three Presidents and current President of SWE at WE Local Tampa! Breakout Sessions presented by them were very informative. “It’s so simple! Improve your e-communication with an easy mantra” by Virginia Count, “Be More Strategic: How to Make Networking Work for You” by Jessica Rannow, and “Creating a One Page Visual Resume” by Jonna Gerken- those were really beneficial and appropriate for graduate attendees. Carolyn Chlebek suggests graduate students to attend early breakout sessions: “Go to the early breakout sessions meant for networking! It was very friendly and allowed for easier one-on-one networking as many people were not early risers.”

Not only can you attend the WE Local, you can also get involved with the organizers too. I judged for the undergraduate collegiate competition. Keynote speakers were amazingly inspiring and thought-provoking. You will get enough delicious foods at these events! The social events were engaging and cordial enough that you will feel right at home. I am amazed at the organization and effort that goes into putting it all together. Although not many Graduate Talks in this year’s WE Locals are happening, the future WE Locals will certainly work on improving more active participations of graduate students.

Networking and Networking:

WE Local brings together participants in all stages of their collegiate and professional journeys. This is the smaller sized conference – they don’t feel as busy, allowing you to get a better connection to both the Society and the members. You just really get to know people and also reconnect with people that you don’t get to see very often. “Be ready to network’, as advised by our Collegiate Director Genevieve Kane.

I got to meet my friend Armana Sabiha Huq after 10 years at WE Local Tampa. She is a PhD Candidate at Florida International University. Although she has been heavily involved with multiple leadership roles in other professional societies, WE Local Tampa was her first conference of SWE. She was amazed to see the friendly setting of local conferences that helps her get connected with numbers of professionals from local areas and beyond. The enthusiasm and encouragement she received motivated her in getting more involved with SWE in the near future.

Get Involved!

Last but not least, WE Locals are still evolving and day by day they are reaching the height of expectation. We as Graduate Students can be actively involved with WE Local Host Committees in the future to facilitate the future WE Local events beneficially for graduate students. The WE Local program is now recruiting SWE Members to serve on the forthcoming WE Local Advisory Board. If you live near a 2020 host city (San Diego, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; Raleigh, NC; Des Moines, IA; Buffalo, NY), apply to be a part of the WE Local Advisory Board. All SWE Membership levels (collegiate to retirement and everything in between) are encouraged to apply. View the online application form at here. Get involved and join WE Locals for an enriched conference experience!

WE19 abstract submission deadline is TONIGHT

WE19’s abstract submission window closes tonight at 11:59 PM EDT. Please consider submitting an abstract.

If you have ever attended a society conference, you know that it’s a genuinely incredible experience in which you get to learn and connect with lots of other female engineers. Elevate your participation by presenting a session. Let others learn from you! You do not have to be a professional with 30+ years of experience to have an impact. Honestly, my favorite sessions have been given by people closer to my age, speaking on topics very important to them.

If something is interesting to you, it is to others as well.

Please look back on some recent blog posts to see some possible ideas for abstracts. Visit this link for additional details and submission instructions.

Lastly, if you plan to submit an abstract, please reach out to the programming team ASAP at We would like to keep track of all submissions, and might be able to provide some feedback before you submit.


SWE Grad Community Leadership Application Announcement!

Interested in joining the SWE Graduate Community Leadership Team? Now is the time to apply! Check out the application and be sure to apply by April 1!



The SWE Graduate Community Leadership Team is looking for motivated and passionate people to serve as new coordinators for FY20, with roles starting in July 2019. This is a great opportunity to contribute to the SWE Grad Community! Potential positions include:

  1. Graduate Member Coordinator-Elect (GMC-E): Assists the Graduate Member Coordinator in fostering strong community and a network for graduate students in SWE by facilitating communication between graduate students in SWE and SWE graduate students groups, and by representing the interests of graduate students to the Society.  Note: this position has a two-year commitment.
  2. Learning Content Coordinator (LCC): Hosts webinars for the graduate student community through the year. Also develops YouTube videos and other learning content.
  3. Social Media Coordinator (SMC): Ensures current and up-to-date communication and engagement through social media and other online outlets.
  4. Mentoring Coordinator (MC): Facilitates the GradSWE Mentoring Program along with the other MCs.
  5. WE Local Programming Liaison (LPL): Assists in facilitating a positive experience for graduate students at WE Local conferences.
  6. International Graduate Team Leader (IGTL): Leads a team to develop resources for international graduate students and the globalization of GradSWE.
  7. Diversity and Inclusion Liaison (DIL): Promotes the support of minority groups in STEM fields. Facilitates relationships between affiliate groups and graduate student members for this effort.


The Process

Applications are due by April 1, 2019 11:59 PM CDT (midnight).

The SWE Grad applications for all positions can be found at

The SWE HQ application (required for the GMC-E position) can be found here.

Note that all positions require the SWE Grad application and the GMC-Elect position requires both the SWE Grad and SWE HQ applications.

Applicants will be notified within two weeks of the deadline if there are additional questions and to schedule a phone interview. If you have any questions during the process, please contact Ceci Klauber at

Got Questions?

We will be hosting a Google Hangout on Wednesday March 20 at 7:30PM CDT to answer any questions you have about the different roles or the application and selection process. Use this link to sign up to join us! 

Be sure to follow SWE Grad on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as we will highlight the benefits of being part of the SWE Grad Leadership Team and give tips for submitting short answer responses or creating a SWE resume.

Questions can also be directed to Ceci at

Other Ways to Get Involved

Consider getting involved more with your local professional section, collegiate section or GradSWE group!

Consider joining a specific SWE Grad Team, like Diversity and Inclusion, International, or Professional! Some of our coordinators lead teams of passionate students in bringing about exciting new programming and initiatives and you can participate by reaching out to the appropriate Coordinator/Liaison.

We look forward to receiving your applications and getting to work with you!

Graduate Member Spotlight: Isabella Sanders

Isabella Sanders
Industrial Engineering
Georgia Tech

Isabella was recently selected as the new Graduate Programming Coordinator Elect for the GradSWE Leadership Team, where she will work on facilitating graduate programming at WE19 and WE20. For the past two years she has served as the Graduate SWE Leader in the Georgia Tech SWE Section. She led the effort in rebuilding a strong Grad SWE leadership team at Georgia Tech. They hosted 10 industry, academic and social events in the last semester alone. She attended WE17 and was selected to attend the ALWE program at WE18. She really enjoyed those experiences and is looking forward to contributing to the conference experience in her new role! She recently won 1st place at the 2019 WE Local St. Louis Graduate Research Competition. The same weekend, Georgia Tech selected her as the 2019 Outstanding Graduate Student at the Women of Distinction Awards. Congratulations Isabella!

Research Topic: Fresh Supply Chains

Isabella’s research on fresh supply chains focuses on hyper connectivity and physical internet applications. She is currently working on projects concerning Fresh-Cut Flower Supply Chains and Market Deployment models for farm-to-table platforms.

She will be presenting her research at the IISE (Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers) annual conference in May, EURO (European Operations Research) Annual Conference in Dublin in June where she is an invited speaker, and IPIC (International Physical Internet Conference) in London in July. She is also on the planning committee for the Doctoral Colloquium for IPIC.

In her free time, Isabella enjoys swimming, running, baking and exploring Atlanta. Her favorite spots include the Georgia Aquarium and the beltline!

Fun Fact: Isabella was a D1 rower in college!


Isabella at the Georgia Aquarium!

My First WeLocal

In the past two years I have attended WE17 and WE18 in Austin in Minneapolis respectively. This weekend I attended WeLocal St. Louis. I was fortunate enough to get funding to attend through my local SWE section (Georgia Tech) and through a stipend with the collegiate competition. Georgia Tech attended as a group with 15 undergrads and 4 graduate students. I came in with no expectations and loved my experience at WE Local. In contrast to the annual conference, We Local felt much more intimate. I met other students and professionals from across the country. Due to the small size of the conference (a couple hundred), I was able to remember names and faces and catch up with people throughout the conference. I also met with my partner and the current GPC, Mujan. Below you can see a picture of us. She gave a great talk entitled “Getting the Most Out of Your First Research Experience.”

The majority of my time at the conference was focused on the Collegiate Research Competition. I sent in an abstract in November that summarized my research. I found out in early December that I had been selected as a finalist for WeLocal St. Louis. I had to prepare a 15 minute lightning talk and a poster. I had never presented my research to an audience that was not in my field. The competition allowed me to practice explaining my research technically to a more general audience. I think that it was a great opportunity to advertise my research and get constructive feedback on my presentation skills. I would recommend this to any graduate student who has been doing research for at least a semester! Below you can see a picture of me and the other graduate students from Georgia Tech with my poster.

Also, if you are interested in submitting an abstract for a talk at WE19 the deadline is March 18th, 2019 at 11:59pm. The majority of submitted abstracts focus on professional development topics, but some can also be technical discussions. If you would like any feedback on your submission, feel free to email it to the graduate programming team at, and we’ll respond as soon as possible!

GT Grad SWE at WE Local with my poster!
Mujan (GPC) and Isabella (GPC-E)