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.


The Habit of Learning Deeply

Recently, I completed a course on Coursera called Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. It covers the psychology of learning and how to deepen understanding of potential difficult subjects, such as in math and sciences. The course (with a free option!) closely follows the companion book, A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science, written by one of the course’s professors, Barbara Oakley. While the book and class are targeted mainly towards students struggling in math and sciences, anyone – in or out of school – can benefit from the idea of how to deeply ingrain any material into their brains.

Since completing the book and course, I have been reflecting on the idea of how learning relates to the field of engineering. Research will stop if engineers use only the existing formulas, ideas, and methodologies. Competition will disappear, markets will stay stagnant, and potentially dangerous ideas will go undetected. This cannot happen in an area like engineering or any technical field. There is far too much at stake.

Graduate School and Learning

Graduate school presents the first major divergence in learning paths for engineers. Most engineers need at least an undergraduate degree (or comparable experience) to enter the field. This alone is a commendable scholastic achievement. Beyond a Bachelor’s lie careers and aspirations built on a foundation of going above the minimum standard.

In undergraduate education, the emphasis is on learning the fundamentals. It may be possible to memorize the subject matter two days before the exam, cramming until the wee hours with a coffee pot in hand. Some students constantly ask “is this on the test?”, often neglecting to learn anything with a “no”. These students may or may not earn the highest GPAs, but they miss the opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of this material.

Graduate school brings an entirely new shift of focus. Instead of taking 40 courses in a variety of topics, the focus often narrows to a smaller area of study and research. This is an amazing opportunity to see what it is like to truly learn. We are in an age of constant discovery on the workings of the human brain, continually unlocking new techniques for how to optimize every neuron.

The Lifelong Learning Habit

I believe people who take steps to attend graduate school, either part-time or full-time, have a new and exciting chance to establish a habit of learning that will benefit the entire engineering profession. As explored in an often recommended book The Power of Habit, a habit shapes our lives and our futures. We form habits and brain “chuncks” (the main idea in A Mind For Numbers, where random information is packaged into easily stored and accessed chunks of information) every day. This isn’t some niche or new-age idea: this is that idea that either we own our habits, or our habits own us.

Speaking from my own experience, the more I study the science of learning, habits, motivation, and general brain power, the more unlocked potential I know I have. I have not learned deeply enough in my past, but every remaining graduate course and project I have left is a time to practice and develop myself as an engineer. Hopefully, I can take those skills and desire for knowledge into every day of my career.

Just Do It!

For all those reading out there already in graduate school, I commend your efforts in improving your field. You are raising the bar for education, not only by learning old ideas but by synthesizing those “chuncks” into new research. For those on the fence about graduate school, I encourage you to find a way to make it happen. There are a countless number of ways to fund full-time study, and more and more doors are opening for part-time study (see my last blog post for tips on full-time employment and part-time study!).

Learning is something the engineering profession can never neglect if we want to improve our future. While we at GradSWE are a bit biased towards promoting graduate school, find any way you can to always learn and to learn deeply. You never know what you could discover or what doors may open along the way.

Why I Study Inclusion in Engineering Education

As the year closes, I am reflecting on my journey into being a graduate student and how I found a topic of research that I am passionate about. My name is Andrea Haverkamp, and I am currently a PhD candidate in environmental engineering at Oregon State University, and also minoring in Queer Studies. These academic fields have blended together in an exciting way as I now study inclusivity and equity in the engineering classroom. 

I have been in engineering for almost 12 years now, between two degrees and several jobs and internships in engineering. Before coming to college, I really wanted to be a high school science teacher. At the urging of my family and teachers I ended up majoring in chemical engineering. I discovered once starting my undergraduate degree that the culture of engineering towards women was often diminishing and the classrooms were not as diverse or welcoming as in other spaces. I am a gay woman as well, creating what some would consider a “multiply marginalized” identity. After hearing a number of gay jokes during class and already being shy, I began to not openly discuss my dating or outside life to my classmates. LGBTQ+ people and women face unconscious bias and stereotypes wherever we go and they can both blend together in uniquely uncomfortable ways for gay women. I also remained hidden during my environmental engineering internships out of fear and lack of diversity initiatives in engineering. When I graduated and started my first job as a process engineer I began to experience the common hurdles that women and LGBTQ+ people in the workplace overcome every day. I was talked over, had projects taken from me and given to men on our team when the projects proved promising or expanded, and had co-workers make comments about me and another woman’s appearances. The attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people were often unfriendly too – I heard coworkers during lunch make “gay jokes” and say discriminatory statements towards a machine operator who was transgender. I continued to not discuss my identity or social life at the workplace, as I feared these statements would make my life as a woman in engineering even more difficult. I once heard a senior engineering manager make highly discriminatory statements towards immigrants as well. The lack of inclusivity made me uncomfortable. I felt very alone in caring about these topics and became very detached from my work.

I had the opportunity through this employer to obtain a Master of Engineering degree as part of a employee development program. It was during this degree program that I took a life changing course – Engineering Education Research. This topic was completely new to me, as all of my courses revolved around mathematics, physics, fluids, and other typical chemical and environmental engineering topics. During this course I was first exposed to the rich research topics that engineering educators and sociologists are studying across the country. Topics range from conceptual learning (how to best learn engineering), engineering philosophy (what is engineering?), and engineering equity and inclusion (the professional climate for underrepresented groups). I had never known that engineers worked on this!

Taking this course, I learned that the negative workplace and classroom experiences of LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color were not something I was imagining. These were very real dynamics that other engineers were studying and researching. This research even has the support from large National Science Foundation initiatives to create a diverse engineering profession. I learned that this research community is growing, with degrees specifically in Engineering Education starting to appear at universities. The professor of this class saw my enthusiasm and we began to meet in office hours frequently. I became very passionate about this topic but sadly, once I graduated, I had to return to the job where these research topics of inclusion and equity felt very real. He told me that I should consider staying for a PhD to join this research field. It felt daunting as someone who had only studied chemical and environmental engineering. I was so fresh to the topic of education that I didn’t believe I could do it.

The turning point in my professional life came during a new position I had as a project engineer. When touring one of our workplaces I came across a cubicle which faced the hallway. On this cubicle wall (belonging to an engineer) were cartoons with highly negative, and what I saw as offensive, cartoons disparaging women, LGBTQ+ people, and the indigenous peoples of North America. I was furious! I made documentation, talked to management, contacted our equal opportunity office, and the cartoons were taken down. I realized that I felt a calling to make sure that this and the other things I had witnessed would never happen again.

Within the year I left that job and was accepted to a PhD program to work on a topic I was passionate about – diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering education. My experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ population informed my research proposal to highlight and document the experiences of undergraduate students and identify the strategies they use to succeed in the classroom. I am excited by the work I do every day. In addition to engineering, I am pursuing a PhD minor in Queer Studies which compliments my research. I finally feel like I found a place in engineering where my real-world experiences can merge with my research to make a better future in engineering. As a high schooler I wanted to teach science, and now I see my true life calling, which is to become an inclusive and welcoming educator in engineering.

Organizations such as SWE, and specifically GradSWE during graduate school, have been instrumental towards my own success and professional development. I cannot change what I saw and experienced the past decade, but I have found a place in my career where I can affect change on many levels through my work. Together we will create an engineering that uplifts all of us!


If you are interested in contributing in any way to GradSWE’s Diversity & Inclusion team (such as assisting in blog posts, brainstorming ideas, sharing ways we can become more inclusive, or developing outreach initiatives) please contact Diversity & Inclusion Liason Andrea Haverkamp at We look forward to working with you!

Tips for Ensuring a Positive Experience in your Research Lab

Working in a research lab with a diverse group of people and under the guidance/management of a professor can be a foreign experience. How can you make the most of your local research community and set yourself up for success with your research advisor? These are a few tips I’ve learned along the way, having exposure to multiple labs and management styles.

  1. Your research advisor serves multiple roles. Not only does this person commonly provide funding for your research and tuition, and serve as your employer/supervisor, but they also serve in the role as your research advisor (sometimes called “mentor”).  Their key function is to provide you, the student, guidance along the path of research activities and to prepare you for a future as a researcher. Some research advisors may not fit the role of what we think of as a traditional “mentor”. In those cases, seek other faculty members as mentors while working with your research advisor.  It is encouraged to have multiple mentors and sources of feedback as you develop as a researcher and prepare for your future career.
  2. Lab management is approached very differently by professors. Some prefer to have low numbers of students while others have large labs with a hierarchical system in place to manage the different levels of students (undergrads, masters, doctorals). Some professors have weekly individual meetings in addition to weekly group lab meetings, while others may only have monthly individual meetings.  This is an important consideration when selecting a lab to join. You must consider your level of interaction needed with your advisor. If s/he is not giving you as much time as you need, be sure to communicate this to them and request a meeting.
  3. Make the most of your lab community. Research labs are often comprised of a variety of students from different countries, backgrounds, undergraduate degrees and Alma Maters. Labs will have a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. For doctoral students, this often becomes your new home away from home for the next 4-6 years. Countless hours will be spent in this environment. Be sure to reach out to your lab mates and spend some “team building” / “get-to-know-you” time with them. Sometimes this happens naturally, other times it takes effort, but it’s worth it. It will make for a much more collegial and supportive environment. Also, be open to helping each other. Often research is an individual effort and can become competitive. This is your time to learn, from others as well as your advisor, and to share and teach others as well so they can learn from you.
  4. Advisor/Student Expectations.  It is vital to have a clear understanding of your advisor’s role, their responsibilities and what you can expect from them. In the same way, you must know your responsibilities and what your advisor expects from you. Some professors and/or departments have implemented a student/advisor contract that each person signs. This is the surest way to prevent misunderstandings and even abuse of the student through inappropriate tasks assigned or causing a delay in graduation. If your school doesn’t use one, feel free to ask your advisor to sign one with you.

  Examples of advisor/student contracts:

Upstate Agreement

University of British Columbia Agreement

Other resources on establishing a successful relationship with your advisor:

Blog on relating with your advisor

U. Michigan Student/Advisor Guides to Mentoring




CU-Denver has received funding to support several PhD students for the upcoming fall semester.

The SHRC Program is a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) PhD fellowship program, focusing on interdisciplinary training of fellows in the area of Transportation Engineering for Safe, Healthy and Resilient Communities.

The three-year fellowship will cover:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Conference Travel
  • Annual Stipend

Find out more at

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.