Reflecting on SWE-HI’s “Conversation on Underrepresented Genders” Event

On May 25th I was honored with speaking at a SWE Hawaiian Islands Diversity & Inclusion event. I spoke both from my perspective as the GradSWE Diversity & Inclusion Liaison and also as a PhD researcher in engineering education studying the topic of gender inclusivity for transgender and gender nonconforming students. In this blog post I want to unpack the talk, share my experiences, and also share resources for those who are interested more in this wonderful event.


This is the flier that shares the speakers for the event, and here is the link if you wish to watch all of the talks that were given:

The event was organized around underrepresented genders – when we think of underrepresentation in engineering, women are the first that come to mind. This event was particularly focused on genders that exist outside of men and women such as Mahu in Native Hawaiian culture or nonbinary / genderfluid individuals.

The talk opened with Dr. Kalaniopua Young, who just completed her PhD in Anthropology, sharing both the history and culture of Mahu gender in Native Hawaiian culture. Dr. Young herself is Mahu and spoke beautifully on the topic. She describes Mahu as being outside of the male/female binary and having existed for countless years before the colonization of the Hawaiian islands. The word Mahu can be thought of representing healing and healer. In a June 2019 article by Honolulu magazine on the topic, Mahu is described by Wong-Kalu as “an individual that straddles somewhere in the middle of the male and female binary. It does not define their sexual preference or gender expression, because gender roles, gender expressions and sexual relationships have all been severely influenced by the changing times. It is dynamic. It is like life.” Dr. Young’s talk taught us all that gender itself is a concept that is shaped by forces such as culture and colonization and that to be inclusive and aware of other genders besides male and female should be an integral part of our diversity activism.

I spoke next regarding the research that is ongoing at Oregon State University into the support structures and resiliency of undergraduate trans and gender nonconforming engineering students. My talk opened with recognizing that OSU is located on the traditional land of the Chepenefa band of the Kalapuya people, land that was forcibly taken after the Kalapuya people were removed from it, and the need to connect the dots between all of our struggles for inclusion and social justice. I then presented three main topics – that we should understand gender as more than just M and F on birth certificates and as a social system that is contextualized by culture, an overview of the current research we are conducting to lift up the voices and experiences of trans and gender nonconforming engineering students, and some tips for creating inclusive organizations and classrooms for all genders. If you are interested in more about these topics, my slides are available at this link.

Frances Stuart spoke next on what SWE has done as an organization to advance diversity and inclusion. Her talk did acknowledge a history of SWE as not centering on diversity, sharing a moment in the early 2000s where she with SWE and someone described it to her as a “white woman’s organization.” There is a great discussion of this moment in the video around the 2 hour 15 minute mark. This was a moment where SWE leadership, after hearing this and other feedback, felt compelled to do more to address diversity and inclusion in the organization. She shared that it is up to each of us to become change leaders in our workplaces and organizations and that SWE is still working on bringing D&I to the forefront of its efforts. Frances brought with her Pat Brown who was the first woman to obtain a chemical engineering degree at University of Louisiana – class of 1947! Together Pat and Frances were able to share a lot of historical context as to the changes that SWE has undergone over the decades and where progress could advance through all of our efforts combined.

Pearl Yamaguchi then ended the event by announcing the creation of a new scholarship aimed at Hawaiian women & underrepresented gender minorities pursuing engineering. It is the Mae Nakatani Nishioka Scholarship named after the first woman graduate in engineering at University of Hawaii (1950) and the first licensed engineer in Hawaii (1954). Hearing about her life and legacy was very moving. Pearl presented slides that showed pictures from newspapers in the 50s about Mae as well as photos of Mae’s life-long dedication to women in engineering in Hawaii. It is so important that her legacy be remembered and powerful that a scholarship in her name can help future students pursuing engineering. They wish for the scholarship to be aimed at not only women, but also open to nonbinary and Mahu students as well. Personally, I think that SWE would be so very lucky to have a scholarship honoring Hawaii’s first woman engineer. It is unclear the future of this scholarship within SWE though because of existing policies that limit extensions of support beyond just women. To me, SWE would be so very lucky as to have a scholarship honoring Hawaii’s first woman engineer.

You can learn more about Mae Nakatani Nishioka, P.E. in this recent post by SWE All Together! Here is an excerpt:

Nishioka mentored female engineering students and professionals. She joined SWE in 1958 as a member at large, and served as Hawaii’s delegate to the First International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES), held concurrently with the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. She remained an active SWE member for nearly 60 years. In 2011, Nishioka was one of the original signers of the charter that created the SWE Hawaiian Islands Section.

She died just two days before she was to have been conferred the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaii Council of Engineering Societies. Her daughter, Susan, accepted the award on her behalf. The SWE Hawaiian Islands Section is establishing a scholarship to preserve Nishioka’s legacy.

In the end, the event’s tagline “More Work To Do in STEM” is a phrase I had stuck in my head for the rest of the trip and as I headed back home to my local SWE community and my research. The quest for an inclusive and socially just engineering is long and we still have a lot of work to do. I learned more about Mahu and how it exists outside of the colonial gender binary and reflected a lot on the way home about how my own research on trans and gender nonconforming engineers can be more inclusive, especially given my own position as a white settler decedent on stolen Native land. It gave me so much hope to see SWE local sections organizing such creative and thought provoking content. I was so lucky to be able to share space and time with SWE Hawaiian Islands and – fingers crossed – hopefully can visit again someday soon.


Congrats Graduates!

The SWE Graduate Student Community exists to provide graduate students with the resources and community they need to excel and graduate with their degrees and successfully transition into their desired career.

This year we celebrate with the new graduates within this community! We wish them the best in their next endeavors and thank them for joining with us during their academic programs.

Mackenzie Arnold
BS, Building Construction Management
UW-Platteville, Spring 2019

Stephany Basney
MS, Engineering Management
Central Michigan University, Spring 2019

Jill Foster
MS, Chemistry
Villanova University, Winter 2018

Anna Hagstorm
Ph.D., Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Yale University, Spring 2019

Bridget Hegarty
Ph.D., Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Yale University, Spring 2019

Monica Hwang
Ph.D., Chemical Engineering
Texas A&M University, Spring 2019

Gurshagan Kandhola
Ph.D., Biological Engineering
University of Arkansas, Summer 2019

Emily Ludwig
MS, Bioengineering; MBA (dual degree)
University of Pittsburgh, Spring 2019

Camila Mancia
MBA, STEM Concentration
Texas Tech University, Summer 2019

Julia Eve Napolitano
MS, Biomedical Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University, Spring 2019

Bhuvi Swarna Lalitha Nirudhoddi
Ph.D., Materials Science and Engineering
The Ohio State University, Summer 2019

Olivia Palmer
Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering
University of Michigan, Spring 2019

Ying Shi
MS, Civil Engineering
Texas A&M University, Fall 2018

Karis Tang-Quan
Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences
Texas A&M University, Summer 2019

Kathy Wang
MPS (Master of Professional Studies), Information Science
Cornell University, Spring 2019

Ruth Williams
MS, Aerospace Engineering
University of Cincinnati, Spring 2019

If you have any questions or would like to be added to the list, please contact Cecilia Klauber ( or fill out this form.

Grad Member Spotlight: Celine Liong

19 September 2016


Celine Liong

PhD student, Bioengineering, expected graduation June 2019

Stanford University


Celine helped to start her undergrad (University of California San Diego) SWE chapter’s first Team Tech team. She also helped in piloting the engineering school’s first overnight stay program where UCSD SWE members hosted newly admitted high school students so that they could learn more about the opportunities at UCSD’s engineering and how SWE can serve as a resource.

Celine has been awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG), the Stanford Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE)-STEM Fellowship, the UCSD Boeing-IDEA center scholarship, the San Diego SWE continuing student scholarship, and the UCSD SWE-California Space Grant Consortium Research Scholarship. Congratulations, Celine, on all you’ve accomplished! Keep up the great work!


What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

Bioengineering PhD at Stanford. I expect to graduate June 2019.

Give a brief explanation of your research.
I work on electronic skin, a flexible and stretchable electronic device designed to mimic the tactile sensing of real human skin. I hope to apply e-skin to treat phantom limb pain. E-skin can be used to create active neural prostheses so amputees have a sense of touch and a way to treat nerves that are randomly firing. 

What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?
I hope to work in industry R&D in the future, focusing on wearable electronics that have therapeutics or diagnostic applications. 

What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I like to run, rock climb, and cycle. I also like to bake and take advantage of sunny California weather either by going to the beach or reading outside.
What’s a fun fact about you?
I’ve never watched Lord of the Rings.

Grad Member Spotlight: Bridget Hegarty

5 September 2016


Bridget Hegarty

PhD student, Environmental Engineering, expected graduation May 2018

Yale University


As an outreach chair for three years at her undergraduate institution, Cornell University, Bridget facilitated numerous engineering outreach events.  Since coming to grad school, she founded the Yale section of GradSWE, served as a grad student advisor to undergrad SWE, and helped to facilitate Yale’s recent application to become an official SWE section. Bridget is currently the president of Yale SWE and is working to increase SWE’s presence on campus.

Bridget was a chair for the event which won the Outreach MOU Partnership Award while she was at Cornell, she was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship as well as the Community Service Award from the Yale University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Congratulations, Bridget, on all you’ve accomplished! Keep up the great work!


What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

If all my research stars align, I expect to graduate in May 2018 with a PhD in Environmental Engineering.


Give a brief explanation of your research.

I am working to develop gene-network models in cyanobacteria.  We will use these models to guide the genetic engineering of mutant strains of cyanobacteria capable of producing biofuel-precursor molecules at levels sufficient for industrial applications.


What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?

My answer varies with the day.  While most of the time, I respond that “I want to become a professor,” I am still exploring and am also considering careers in academic administration and STEM outreach.


What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?

I travel whenever I have the opportunity; I am a voracious reader and an avid photographer.


What’s a fun fact about you?

I will be testing for my black belt in taekwondo within the next year.

Grad Member Spotlight: Ana Ramekar

22 Aug 2016


Ana Ramekar

MS Candidate, Aerospace Engineering, expected graduation December 2016

University of Maryland, College Park

Ana has served SWE on a local level throughout the Baltimore-Washington Section as the Workshop Host for “Transitioning from School to Industry ‘Backpacks to Briefcases'” and “Communication with Confidence”. She has been a Professional Development Committee member for the “Aspire To Lead” event and a Professional SWE Liaison to University of Maryland as well as the SWE Social Committee Co-Chair. Ana has been nominated for the SWE Emerging Engineer and has been awarded the Women in Color Award and the Region E Professional Development Event Award for the Aspire to Lead event.


What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

Aerospace Engineering MS candidate, January 2014- December 2016



Give a brief explanation of your research.

My research topic studies protruding aerodynamic shapes and other obstacles to better understand the aircraft performance cost and drag penalty. I’m essentially performing an aerodynamic trade study of obstacles in multiple configurations using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). The results are useful to aircraft designers and planners who make decisions on where to install certain aerodynamic fairings or antennas on aircraft.


What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?

I’ve realized some of the best engineering outcomes are achieved when there are few barriers between the different disciplines on project. I want to apply the skills and knowledge learned in my degree to contribute to a multidisciplinary team and make an exceptional aircraft design. Specifically I want to make Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) tools more accessible earlier in aircraft design process to other ‘non-aerospace’ engineering teams, such as mechanical, structural and systems engineering teams.


What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?

I cherish every moment I get to spend alone. I enjoy photography, drawing and being active. Two years ago took a plunge and enrolled in a yoga teacher training program and immediately started teaching at the campus gym when I got my certification. I taught a 7 am course and tried to help fellow students and undergraduates feel good about being dedicated to their health and setting aside time for quiet reflection. It was a very rewarding experience!


What’s a fun fact about you?

I learned to windsurf in the Gunpowder River where I live and pilot a Cessna 172 aircraft so I can attempt to intuitively understand aerodynamic forces and how they dynamically interact with lifting surfaces like sails and wings. At least that’s what I tell myself…

Grad Member Spotlight: Jordan Rutledge

8 Aug 2016

Jordan Rutledgeheadframe

MS candidate, Materials and Metallurgical Engineering, expected summer 2016

Colorado School of Mines

Jordan says she is, “lucky to be a member of the largest SWE collegiate chapter here at the Colorado School of Mines.” She says her favorite events to be involved with have been Up ‘Til Dawn to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research and Girl Scout Badge Day. Jordan has also been involved with Evening with Industry, where students get to meet and have dinner with female mentors just before Career Day on campus. During graduate school, Jordan volunteered with the Denver School of Science and Technology, a specialized STEM middle school that focuses on underprivileged students in Denver, where she was a science and math tutor and mentored several science fair projects. Jordan has also served as the Vice President for her department’s graduate women’s group, WiMMN (Women in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Materials Science, and Nuclear). This club welcomes all graduate students and focuses on a wide range of graduate life including professional development, career planning, financial planning, stress management.
Jordan has been awarded the Mary and Charles Cavanaugh Memorial Award, the H.L. Hazen Award in Process Metallurgy, the Most Outstanding Service Award Blue Key, and placed 3rd in the poster competition at the 2016 Society of Mining Metallurgy and Exploration Annual Conference. Congratulations, Jordan, on all your accomplishments! Keep up the great work!
What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?
I’m completing a Masters of Science in Materials and Metallurgical Engineering in the Kroll Institute for Extractive Metallurgy. I expect to finish my thesis and graduate in the summer of 2016.
Give a brief explanation of your research.
My research is on using tannins as a depressant for copper sulfide flotation applications. Copper metal is primarily produced from ore, where it is mined, crushed, put through a flotation circuit, smelted, and finally refined into pure copper. Flotation is the process where the copper is first concentrated, and it’s best described as a bubble bath for minerals. In the flotation cell the ore is introduced with chemicals and air, and is agitated. Different types of reagents (collectors, depressants, modifiers, frothers) are used to create the perfect conditions for separating copper from the rest of the minerals. With the right collector, the valuable copper minerals will become hydrophobic and cling to air bubbles going to the surface. Depressants like tannins are used to depress other minerals in the ore.
What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?
I will be working for Silvateam, the company that sponsored my thesis, as a technical support and sales associate.  This job will let me visit mines around the world and apply tannins to different operations. Ultimately I would like to have a teaching position at some point in my career, but for now I’m eager to learn and explore the field.
What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I grew up in Colorado and was lucky enough to start snow sports when I was young, so you’ll typically find me snowboarding all winter. I love to travel and take every opportunity to see somewhere new.
What’s a fun fact about you?
I’ve been to 5 continents and 26 countries, here’s to exploring!

Grad Member Spotlight: Astha Khanna

25 July 2016


Astha Khanna

PhD Student, Bioengineering, expected graduation May 2017

Clemson University


Astha has served as the professional Outreach chair of the Society of Women Engineers for the academic year 2015-16. During her tenure, she was very actively involved in raising around $600 to sponsor registration fee and travel of Clemson SWE members to attend the WE15. Astha was involved in organizing info-sessions conducted by representatives from GE Healthcare and Deloitte consulting on tailoring resumes and preparing for co-ops, internships and full-time positions. Astha has served as the Vice-President of the Clemson Bioengineering Society as well mentoring Bioengineering undergraduates in designing biomedical devices.

Astha has served also as the President of the International Student Association at Clemson University for the academic year 2015-16 for which she conducted dialogue sessions to address the academic and professional needs and concerns of graduate population at Clemson. As President, she organized the sponsorship of 10 female graduate students at Clemson to attend the Women’s Leadership Conference. held at Clemson in Feb 2015.

Astha was a finalist of the Three minute thesis contest held at Clemson University in Mar 2015. She was nominated for the Outstanding Women Graduate Student Award in Clemson University in Feb 2016 for outstanding academic accomplishments and multiple leadership roles. Astha was awarded a professional enrichment grant (PEG) by Clemson University Graduate School in April 2015 to present my research at the Society for Biomaterials (SFB) conference held in Charlotte, NC in April 2015. She was appreciated as the Best Moderator in the Clemson University Bioengineering departmental seminar sessions in spring 2015.

Astha has been featured in the the Clemson newspaper, awarded the Community Impact Medal at Clemson University, and featured as a research presenter at the Society for Biomaterials annual meeting held in Charlotte, NC in April 2015. She was an invited presenter at the Southeastern Medical Device Association annual meeting held in March 2015, where her research was highlighted as a top 20 technologies from young companies and university labs. Congratulations, Astha, on all your accomplishments! Keep up the great work!


What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

I’m currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Bioengineering at Clemson University. I expect to graduate in May 2017.

Having earned 96 credit hours at Clemson University with a GPA of 3.72, I have published my doctoral research in several conference proceedings, have completed 2 certifications on 1. Technology Entrepreneurship from Clemson University where I specialized in areas of medical device commercialization, advanced leadership and project management and 2. Bio-compatibility of Medical Devices from NAMSA (by virtue of which I’m a biological safety specialist trained on ASTM and ISO protocols to assess biocompatibility of medical devices. I’m currently enrolled in a certificate in Engineering and Science and Education issued by Clemson University which completely aligns with my passion for teaching after getting a doctorate. I have demonstrated attainment of knowledge from diverse areas and thus evolving into a well-rounded individual with a record of academic achievements and leadership roles.


Give a brief explanation of your research.

My doctoral dissertation is on designing biocompatible coatings for vascular devices. I’m currently working on designing a coating of human serum albumin, a natural blood protein for its potential to shield adsorption of adhesive proteins and platelets in the blood making it promising in preventing the incidence of thrombosis (blood clot formation within the blood vessels). Human albumin coating fabricated using our technology has been also shown to mitigate the hyperplasia of smooth muscle cells which is a major complication post a stent implantation and bypass graft surgery.


What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?

After completing my Ph.D., I hope to work as an assistant professor in bioengineering. My passion for teaching interests me to work in academia and embark on a career in education.  I have been the head teaching assistant/ lab instructor for the course biochemistry laboratory techniques in Clemson university for the past 9 semesters. I have also been a biomedical device design mentor to undergraduates in the dept. of bioengineering for 3 semesters for which I mentor students in identification of clinical need, device design and testing, budget and market analysis and regulatory approval. The teaching experience has been fulfilling and insightful for me. The great evaluations that I receive every semester from my students bolsters my passion for teaching after getting a doctorate.


What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?

  1. Listening to music
  2. Reading articles on spirituality and astrology (I like studying/unravelling the deep mysteries/secrets of the universe that we don’t know about).
  3. Cooking delicious food (I’m a big foodie!)
  4. Having fun conversations with friends


What’s a fun fact about you?

Fun Fact: If you ever want to make me happy, just feed me. I’m a big foodie, I can keep eating the whole day and never get tired from eating. People eat to live but I live to eat.