Towards a Gender Expansive Engineering – Part Two, Ideas and New Practices for Inclusion

By Andrea Haverkamp & Rachel Tenney

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!

Part One can be found at this link.

According to, “gender-expansive” has the following definition:

An umbrella term used for individuals that broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, roles, and/or other perceived gender norms. Gender-expansive individuals include those with transgender and non-binary identities, as well as those whose gender in some way is seen to be stretching society’s notions of gender.

We offer a few ideas on how we can move forward in our work to be more gender expansive and gender inclusive:

1: Beyond the Binary – including nonbinary engineers 

At SWE, we welcome all engineers into our organization. This includes nonbinary engineers who do not to identify as men or women. When collecting records in the workplace, the lab, or in our research, let’s provide more than two demographic choices. Below is an example of a gender-inclusive demographic question from the Human Rights Campaign:


What is your gender?

  • Woman
  • Man
  • Nonbinary / third gender
  • Prefer to self-describe  _______
  • Prefer not to say


In all we do, let’s provide more than two options for gender. This small shift increases our gender inclusivity. It allows nonbinary and gender diverse engineers to not feel  invisible, but instead recognized.

2: Gender expansive teaching and inclusive language

If we normalize the use of gender neutral language, we all will feel included. Women, nonbinary individuals, gender nonconforming individuals, those of us with complicated relationships to womanhood, and those of us with different understandings of womanhood. As detailed in the overview of this post, gender is complicated, and reasserting binary gender difference actually limits all of our potential.

We can use gender neutral pronouns for our peers and in our gender activism. They/them/theirs are the gender pronouns that are singular and solidly rooted in the English language. This is proper English as described by Merriam-Webster. You likely say it all of the time without realizing it. Before calling someone “he” or “she” we can ask for their pronouns or say “they” by default. We cannot tell what someone prefers if we never ask. On that note, if you accidentally misgender someone, use pronouns they don’t prefer, or are corrected, simply acknowledge the mistake and move forward. Additionally, integrating gender-inclusive language into your vocabulary is easier than you think–replace “guys” with “y’all,” “folks,” or “friends.” If you are comfortable with your gender identity, it is also a good idea to share your pronouns with others when you introduce yourself. For example, “Hello, my name is Logan, and I use they/them pronouns.” This practice helps create a safe environment in which all people who may want to share their pronouns for any reason are able while normalizing the practice of sharing your own and using others’ pronouns.

Interested in learning more about gender neutral prefixes beyond Mr. or Mrs. such as Mx.? Check out this handout available from MIT which explains various honorifics that affirm nonbinary people. Brienne Harbin’s article Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom is another essential resource to explore practical strategies for gender expansive inclusion. She provides vocabulary and the following list of best practices for STEM educators, many of which can be apply to workforce interactions as well:

  • Only call roll or read the class roster aloud after providing students with an opportunity to share their requested name and pronouns, and what they care to disclose to the class.
  • Allow students to self-identify the name and pronouns they prefer.
  • Set a tone of respect on the first day of class as part of the course expectations and connect this discussion with honoring one another’s requested names and pronouns.
  • Acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake about someone’s pronoun and correct yourself.
  • Honor students’ requested names in all university settings including (but not limited to): office hours, classroom, student group meetings, or when speaking with other faculty or staff.
  • Politely provide a correction whether the person who was misgendered is present or not.
  • Do not ask personal questions of gender non-conforming people that you would not ask of others. Such questions include inquiries about a gender non-conforming person’s body, medical care, former name, why or how they knew they were gender non-conforming, their sexual orientation or practices, their family’s reaction to their gender identity, or any other questions that are irrelevant to the classroom context unless the student explicitly invites these questions or voluntarily offers this information.
  • Do not disclose students’ gender identity unless you have obtained their consent.

3: Becoming educated and aware of gender diversity

Overall one of the most powerful things we can do as women or allies to those who do not identify strictly (or at all)  as women is to become educated. he resources, education, and legal & policy implications at The article “Understanding Gender” is powerful in its discussions of the dimensions of gender, its difference from sexual orientation, and what to do with that knowledge. Central is understanding that our physical body parts are not gender.

While our gender may begin with the assignment of our sex, it doesn’t end there. As described by, a person’s gender is the complex interrelationship between three dimensions:

  • Body: our body, our experience of our own body, how society genders bodies, and how others interact with us based on our body.
  • Identity: our deeply held, internal sense of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither; who we internally know ourselves to be.
  • Expression: how we present our gender in the world and how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Gender expression is also related to gender roles and how society uses those roles to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.

Each of these dimensions can vary greatly across a range of possibilities. A person’s comfort in their gender is related to the degree to which these three dimensions feel in harmony.

Understanding these facets of gender and integrating the above ideas are initial steps we might take together to expand gender inclusion in engineering. The paper began with language we may be using too often that alienates or prevents nonbinary, LGBTQ+, or gender diverse women in engineering. Here is what inclusive and gender expansive comments might look like in the future:

“Hi friends!” “Hey y’all.” “What a wonderful person.” “An accomplished individual.” “They are not only a parent, she’s an engineer.” “Gender diverse individuals in engineering bring unique skills.” “We need to hire more engineers that bring gender diversity.”


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!


How to Effectively Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

I recently attended a faculty retreat at the AuSable Institute in Michigan, where I met Dr. Fred Van Dyke. Fred, a long time professor and lifetime environmental educator, had some very good tips on writing and asking for letters of recommendation from his many years of experience. They’re applicable regardless of discipline or industry, and can be given to others when you’re on the other side being asked to write one yourself.

Think of a recommendation letter as a person to get in the door, not a letter to get out. Remember that it should make a persuasive argument as to why the person being recommended is the one for the job, and should detail how the person recommended will be a lasting solution to solving the particular problem described in the job description. As a recommender, it is your role to persuade the hiring committee that your colleague is the person they want. And if you’re asking for a letter, it is your role to provide all the information your recommender could need to write that convincing argument, in addition to their knowledge of you from your relationship.

Here are good guidelines to follow when asking for a letter of recommendation, or to ask for when someone asks you for one:

  1. Provide a written description of the position you are applying for (problem to be solved). This allows your recommender to acknowledge the problem you will solve if you get the position.
  2. Tell your recommender in writing why you want the position and why you are the right person for it. This allows your recommender to corroborate your story and provide supporting evidence from their knowledge of and relationship with you.
  3. Provide your recommender with a current transcript and CV. (This applies more for academic positions; a resume can be used for industry positions). This gives your recommender an easy reminder of specific examples of why you are the perfect fit.
  4. Give your recommender at least 3 weeks notice. This allows your recommender to find enough time to write you a great letter and have it back to you before the deadline. Be sure to communicate the deadline for when you need the letter completed by, and where it needs to go.
  5. Tell your recommender what your career goals are, and how this position fits into those goals. This gives your recommender a broader perspective on your goals and allows them to write an argument to your potential employer on what steps you are perfectly aligned to take in your new role that just so happen to be exactly what you want to do.

Letters of recommendation are a part of an ongoing relationship. Being prepared when asking for a letter and being honest about the quality of letter you can provide shows respect to each other and each other’s time.


Become more involved in our professional community!

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Many of our community members take advantage of our active Facebook account, Instagram account, Twitter account, and of course, our blog. One more way to get involved is to join our LinkedIn group! If you haven’t already, join here:

Once your request to join our group is approved, you’ll be able to take advantage of and contribute to professional development and inspirational material, our large professional network, and many more resources within SWE and from the industry! We are looking forward to networking with you in more ways!

Graduate Student Spotlight: Kamalika Poddar

Kamalika Poddar
Computer Engineering
University of California, RiversideKamalikaPoddar

Kamalika has only been involved with SWE for about a year, but she has contributed to the SWE community as a mentor, scholarship recipient and volunteer. As a GradSWE mentor she is mentoring six undergraduate students by providing them information regarding grad school research and requirements in industry standards. She received a scholarship to attend the WE18 Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota and helped in the process of registering the over 14,000 attendees and exhibitors. As a Graduate Student Mentor for UCR International Affairs, she helps six international graduate students with graduate life. Apart from these, she volunteers for events like Bourns Engineering Day 2018 (one of the biggest events at UC-Riverside) and Citrus Hack 2018. She served as the Core Values Judge for First Lego League 2018 and is a scholarship holder for the Step-Con Educator Conference 2018, organized by MESA, at UCR.

Research Topic: Automatic #Hashtag Generation from Text and Images using CNN

In her research, Kamalika collects tweets and images from Twitter based on hashtags, and trains a model using convolutional neural networks to predict image categories. She aims to increase the accuracy of the model by training images with different sub-categories. She wants to design an efficient model where with every image post on Twitter, automatically the hashtags associated with the images will appear in the text box and there won’t be any need for the user to type and search for a particular hashtag. After graduation, she plans to join the software industry and also wants to help in providing solutions to combat social and environmental issues.

Apart from her research she likes to talk about one of her projects, where she collected negative and positive tweets over the week from Monday-Friday and after analyzing, she found a pattern where she could relate the effects of the high temperature of a day to the generation of negative tweets. If this behavior is analyzed over a period of time maybe it can help in understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder.

To Kamalika, the best experience so far has been as a graduate student, where she can not only conduct research and learn new technologies but also gets the chance to contribute to society. In her free time, Kamalika likes to follow tutorials and courses to learn new concepts and software. She also likes to invite friends over and cook for them. She enjoys travelling, which makes her feel peaceful.

Kamalika admires Serena Williams because though she has struggled much in her life to reach the heights of success, she never gave up. Moreover, we can learn from Serena that success is not just a one time thing, but that continuous effort and determination make an individual successful.

Fun Fact: Kamalika is the first women engineer in her family and she can speak four different languages- English, Bengali, Hindi and Kannada.

Graduate Member Spotlight: Jennifer DiStefano

Jennifer DiStefano
Ph.D. Candidate
Materials Science and Engineering
Northwestern University
Expected Graduation: 2020


Jennifer began her SWE career as an officer on the inaugural GradSWE board at Northwestern University three years ago. In her first position as Professional Development Chair, Jennifer introduced programming that has continued to this day, such as luncheons with women professors at Northwestern. Jennifer has been on the officer board since then; in fact, she now leads the GradSWE at Northwestern group. She is passionate about introducing STEM fields to girls at a young age, but also believes it is critical to nurture their interest in STEM while they look towards higher education and future careers. To that end, she is focusing on expanding the outreach and mentoring initiatives of GradSWE by making women graduate students visible and accessible to K-12 girls and undergraduate STEM students alike. Her SWE conference engagement includes presenting a workshop on elevator pitches at WE Local Milwaukee in 2017 and placing first at the Rapid Fire research presentation competition at WE18.

Jennifer is recognized as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow as well as a Northwestern International Institute of Nanotechnology Ryan Fellow.

Thesis Topic: 2D Material Nanocomposites

Since the discovery of graphene in 2004, 2D materials have drawn considerable interest for their potential in future electronics. These materials are ultra-thin – only a few atoms thick – and this reduced dimensionality leads to a host of properties not found in traditional electronic materials, including flexibility and transparency. Some of these atomically-thin materials are semiconductors, making them promising candidates for future electronic and optical applications, including solar cells and LED lighting. If these 2D semiconductors could be combined with other functional nanomaterials in nanocomposites, an even broader array of properties – and with that, future applications – would result.  Jennifer’s research focuses on exploring the formation and properties of new structures that combine 2D materials with other useful nanomaterials such as gold and silver.

After graduation, Jennifer is interested in a career in science policy or scientific consulting. Outside of work, she enjoys bird-watching (which Chicago is surprisingly good for!) in addition to reading and hiking.

Fun Fact: Jennifer is from a beautiful, but quite rural, part of Pennsylvania. So rural, in fact, that her high school had an annual “Drive Your Tractor to School Day,” in which several students inevitably participated.

Recap: SWE Annual Conference-WE18

Another annual conference is in the books for the Society of Women Engineers where more than 14,000 women engineers gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center last month.

Our graduate community participates in the conference in a variety of ways including hosting professional development sessions, competing in research presentations, exploring the career fair, and networking at the Graduate Member Meeting and Graduate Student Reception.

Graduate Poster & Rapid Fire Competition:

Twenty graduate students were selected from those that submitted abstracts for the Graduate Poster & Rapid Fire Competition. Ten students competed in each category (poster or rapid fire) where they were evaluated on their research and presentation skills. Congratulations to the following award recipients:

Graduate Poster Competition Results
(1st) Samantha Zellner
Corrosion Measurement of Silicon Carbide
University of North Texas

(2nd) Sarah Robb
Is faster FDA review time for cardiovascular devices correlated with adverse health outcomes, as evidenced by increased recalls?
Carnegie Mellon University

(3rd) Rachel Tenney
Production of Nitrogen- and Phosphorus-Rich Crystals from Municipal Wastewater for Sustainable Nutrient Recovery
University of Minnesota

Graduate Rapid Fire Competition Results
(1st) Jennifer DiStefano
Utilizing 2D Materials in Core-shell Nanocomposites
Northwestern University

(2nd) Caymen Novak
Compressive Stimulus Enhances Ovarian Cancer Proliferation, Invasion, and Mechanotransduction in a Novel 3D Compression Bioreactor
University of Michigan

(3rd) Kritika Iyer
Non-Invasive Diagnostics of Coronary Artery Disease Using Machine Learning and Computational Fluid Dynamics
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Graduate Member Meeting:

Our member meeting is open to all graduates and serves to update our members on current GradSWE initiatives and what they can do to increase graduate student involvement in SWE at their university. The meeting slides contain pertinent links and tips for developing a GradSWE group.

Graduate Student Reception (Sponsored by Praxair and Autodesk):

With over 60 attendees, the Graduate Student Reception continues to grow and is an opportunity for networking and idea sharing among peers and the sponsors. We would like to once again thank Autodesk and Praxair for their support of the SWE graduate community! 20181019_172539

Join our team as Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect (GPC-E):

Do you want to get involved in GradSWE at the Society level? The application is now open for the Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect (GPC-Elect) position.

This position carries a two-year term (one year as coordinator-elect and one year as coordinator) filled by a SWE graduate student or recent Ph.D./M.S. graduate. The time commitment is usually 2-3 hours/week and is closer to 7-10 hours/week in the weeks before the annual conference. All meetings are through conference calls, except for the required annual conference attendance for both WE19 and WE20.

Deadline for applications is Monday, December 31, 2018 11:59 pm CDT (Midnight).
All applications will then be reviewed and applicants will be contacted in January.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at