On the Road to Change

Annual WEPAN Conference is Held in Albuquerque

Women make up 50 percent of the population and almost half the workforce, but they comprise only 12 percent of engineering professionals. The Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network (WEPAN) is working to improve that number. WEPAN is a national, nonprofit organization focused on increasing the number of women engineering students and women in engineering careers, as well as increasing their overall success in the field.

The road to reaching those goals went right through Albuquerque when WEPAN held its annual conference in the city this summer. The conference, themed "Route 50/50: Shifting Gears for Inclusion," was held June 6-9. Elaine Borrelli, director of Engineering Student Programs and the Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of New Mexico, was the event chairperson. UNM co-hosted the event along with New Mexico State University.

More than 200 women from around the world attended presentations, workshops and panels during the three-day event. Topics included program assessment, classroom climate research studies, career trajectories for women engineers, successful pre-college initiatives, and a symposium on outreach, retention, and organizational change.

One of the keynote speakers was Sandra Begay-Campbell, a principal member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, alumna of the School of Engineering's Department of Civil Engineering, and currently a member of the UNM Board of Regents. Begay-Campbell spoke about her experiences as a Navajo woman in engineering within the framework of a Navajo concept called "walking in beauty" which takes a holistic approach to the world. "I was very excited to have the WEPAN conference in Albuquerque and to have attendees see the Land of Enchantment," says Begay-Campbell.

Borrelli says the conference was a great success for women in engineering and for UNM. "We're charging forward to raise awareness at UNM about women in engineering and the sciences. Dean Cecchi and the department chairs have been tremendously enthusiastic and supportive about creating an environment that welcomes women students and, in doing so, enriches the learning experience for all students," says Borrelli. She adds, "We're doing well, but we have more opportunities ahead." The number of women students in engineering at the nation's universities is about 20 percent. UNM is just above the national average at 21 percent.

Borrelli says the WEPAN conference helped boost the profiles of the city and university. She sums up the event saying, "We want people outside of New Mexico to understand that we have wonderful engineering and technical resources here. We also want them to see that UNM is an exemplary place for students to attend school. The conference participants enjoyed Albuquerque and felt that New Mexico, and UNM, are at the forefront of technology and engineering."