Girls at Poway High School have a brand-new opportunity to expand their science and engineering horizons. Founded in Fall 2018, the school’s Society of Women Engineers Next (SWENext) club connects students to a worldwide network of professional and collegiate members. The club is spearheaded by students, for students, and combines educational experience with friendship and support. 92064 Magazine spoke with Co-Presidents Madalyn Nguyen and Sara Wilson to learn more.
What is the Society of Women Engineers Next (SWENext)?
Madalyn: SWENext is a way for K-12 students to connect with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) – the world’s largest advocate for women in engineering and technology with a community of over 40,000 professional and collegiate members. SWE is centered around a passion for members’ success and continues to evolve with the challenges and opportunities reflected in today’s exciting engineering and technology specialties. Any student 13 or older can become a SWENexter. For those younger than 13, a parent will need to be the primary contact.
Sara: It works to expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving quality of life, and it works to create a world with gender equality in engineering and technology.
What is the history of the Poway chapter? When and why was it founded?
Madalyn: Our co-advisor Dr. Tracy Nguyen (also my mom) and I wanted to establish a support system on Team Spyder (Poway High School’s robotics team) to increase women’s representation. Instead of creating a brand-new women in engineering club, we opted to establish a Society of Women Engineers on campus because by participating in an international women in engineering society, the young women on campus will have more resources, support, and opportunities for advancement, awards, and scholarships. PHS SWENext’s foremost goal is to create a culture of encouragement and friendship for young women on Team Spyder so that the end goal is to increase women participation. This goal coincides with Team Spyder’s mission of having equal representation.
So, in the Fall of 2018, I invited a couple of my fellow teammates to establish a SWENext chapter at Poway High School. In addition, PHS SWENext’s second purpose is to introduce STEM to girls in middle and early high school through STEM activities and mentorship. Middle school is often when girls begin to lose interest in science and math. We hope to get girls interested and keep them engaged by giving them opportunities to explore STEM through fun activities outside of the classroom.
How has the club grown and evolved since then?
Sara: Since 2018, PHS SWENext has grown and evolved from a few girls to almost every girl on our robotics team. We have also expanded our outreach by continuing to host events like Include Autism and our Girls in STEM Inspiration Day as well as new events with Girl Scouts. We are also going to expand SWENext globally to Paraguay and Benin.
Madalyn: In future years, we hope to not only include young women on Team Spyder but to include young women from PHS Engineering Academy.
What is your role in PHS SWENext?
Madalyn: I am the founder and president of PHS SWENext’s inaugural year. I was re-elected for a second term. We also have a co-president this year. As president, I am tasked with developing, organizing, and implementing activities such as FIRST Lego League workshops, outreach, and Girl Scouts events such as Girl Scouts Spring into STEM that will advance women in engineering on campus and in our communities.
Sara: I am co-president of PHS SWENext this year and was treasurer last year. The role of co-president entails working with the other president to plan and organize events, field trips, and outreach events. It also involves leading and being a role model for all of the members of our club.
What has been the most rewarding part of your role? The most challenging?
Sara: The most rewarding experience last year was hosting the Girls in STEM Inspiration Day because we got to teach middle and elementary school girls how to do various engineering projects and we got to see their excitement with it. The most challenging part of the year last year was completing the DesignLab challenge because we had to continue to work on it during the beginning of summer, which was hard to do due to our team members’ conflicting schedules.
Madalyn: The most rewarding part of my role on PHS SWENext is knowing that I am a role model for young girls to emulate. I want young children to see that girls can grow up to make an impact on the world as engineers and scientists. I want to help create a future where engineering and STEM is not perceived as a male-dominated profession.
While exploring my deep intellectual curiosity in STEM, I discovered my even deeper passion for helping children from underserved and marginalized communities. Both in-person and via video-conference, I met diverse children, both locally and globally, who have very limited access to STEM equipment and mentoring. This year, I am mentoring multiple FLL and FTC teams locally and globally. As I am only 15 years old and cannot drive yet, my biggest challenge is getting transportation to visit all the teams I am mentoring, especially in the inner city, and balancing time for mentoring teams and schoolwork. In addition, mentoring teams on different time zones and continents like Africa and South America can be quite challenging too.
How can students join PHS SWENext?
Madalyn: Middle and high school students can join the national society with no membership fee via this link: www.swe.org/k-12-outreach/youth-programs.
Sara: Students can join SWENext by contacting any of our leadership team or by coming to our meeting that we have during lunch on Fridays.
Has PHS SWENext won any awards or competitions? Tell us about any highlights.
Madalyn: Our greatest accomplishment this year was hosting the Girls in STEM Inspiration Day on May 18, where over 100 third through eighth grade girls and parents from all over the county attended. The day included a complimentary, hands-on engineering workshop to promote, inspire, and empower girls to embrace science, technology, engineering, and math. In February of this year, I invited five fellow PHS SWENexters to join my team to compete in a SWE-sponsored competition called DesignLab Community Engagement Challenge. The challenge asks teams of high school students to develop a hands-on engineering activity for local elementary and middle school students that addresses a specific community need. Representing my team as captain, I created a powerpoint and traveled to St. Louis to present a project proposal on stage to SWE judges. I was very proud to procure a $1,000 grant, which allowed our team to host the Girls in STEM Inspiration Day in May.
For the second round of competition, we created a video of our event to share with SWE judges. We were honored to be the recipient of the People’s Choice Award for online voting where we donated our winning of an Amazon gift card to buy afterschool STEAM items for the Monarch School for homeless youths. In addition, we won the DesignLab Grand Prize for an all-expense paid trip to the annual SWE conference in Anaheim to accept the award with a behind-the-scenes tour of Disneyland.
What other events does PHS SWENext host or take part in?
Madalyn: We visit neighboring elementary and middle schools to promote STEM by giving FIRST Lego League (FLL) Informational Nights to help create FLL robotics teams. Not only do we mentor FLL teams in our community, we ensure they are prepared for competition by hosting scrimmages and workshops prior to their FLL Qualifying Tournaments. We are also working with an Autism non-profit organization to bring robotics to students that might not have a chance to explore robotics. Lastly, we hosted a STEM Career Lecture Series last year, where we invited women professionals to share their passion and careers so our SWENexters can see that women can be successful engineers and scientists. This year, we are excited to invite Dr. Mary Isaac (retired mechanical engineer) to teach us about bias literacy, and she will give us coping strategies for when our SWENexters encounter bias at school and in the workplace.
How does SWENext stay connected to the local community?
Sara: PHS SWENext stays connected to the local community by communicating with local middle and elementary schools to host or participate in events and planning community events to promote young girls in STEM.
Madalyn: We participate in community events such as the Poway Day Parade and fall festivals at elementary schools. We also volunteer with Family and Friends Community Connection (FFCC) annually for community service. This year, we were excited to partner with My Girlfriend’s Closet to collect clothing and supplies for homeless and foster girls.
Along with Team Spyder, we are a community partner with the San Diego Girl Scouts Council. We help Girl Scouts earn their robotics or tech badges and bring robotics to the Girl Scouts Spring into STEM event at Balboa Park in the spring.
Poway High SWENext
Co-Presidents: Madalyn Nguyen and Sara Wilson
Vice President: Lily Rueckert
Treasurer: May He
Secretary: Avery Donaldson
Co-Historians: Karina Kukosyan and Bayaz Aliyeva
Co-Advisors: Dr. Tracy Nguyen and Mr. Rodger Dohm
Founded: August 2018
Number of Students: 22
Website: www.teamspyder.org (click on Girls tab)
Position: PHS SWENExt Founder and President (2018-19, 2019-20); Team Spyder Vice President of Public Relations; FIRSTLikeAGirl Ambassador
Community: Carmel Mountain Ranch
Hobbies & Interests: Flying drones, 3D printing custom parts, traveling
Family: Michael and Tracy Nguyen – parents; Abby Nguyen – sister
Favorite Places in 92064: Team Spyder Robotics Lab, Chick-Fil-A
Community: 4S Ranch
Hobbies & Interests: Robotics, mentoring FLL students, my two cats
Family: Eva Van Linge – mom; Tim Van Linge – stepdad
Favorite Places in 92064: Everbowl, Poway Bowl, Poway Lake
Are there any ways for the community to get involved?
Madalyn: We are always looking for mentors. We love getting support from women engineers and professionals.
Sara: The community can get involved with PHS SWENExt by reaching out to our leadership team or our advisors to inform us of any events we can help with as well as attending or helping with any of the events we host.
Do you have any favorite memories or experiences with SWENext?
Sara: My favorite memory with SWENext was attending the SWE San Diego Open House. I really liked this event because I was able to meet a lot of women that are in various engineering fields as well as hear about some of their journeys being women in STEM fields. It left me feeling inspired and ready to continue on in STEM.
Madalyn: Even though I have been a SWENext member since sixth grade, last school year was the first time I participated in a SWE and SWENext event. Last August 2018, I attended a SWE San Diego section Open House where I connected with a safety engineer from TUV Sud America, Ms. Justina Sanchez. Eventually she became my engineering mentor. She was so impressed with all my experience on Team Spyder. She created an internship opportunity for me last summer when I was just finishing my freshman year. I was so grateful for her support and encouragement. It was so cool to intern for an engineering company as a new sophomore when most internships are reserved for upperclassman.
This is an excellent example of why being connected to the SWE for networking opens opportunities for advancement.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Madalyn: We are succeeding in one of our goals of helping others establish SWENext chapters to advance women in engineering in their communities. We are constantly promoting and collaborating with many groups in our community locally and globally. We’re really excited that very soon, for the first time, there will be SWENext chapters in Paraguay, Benin, and Nigeria.
We are working with local middle and high schools to establish a SWENext chapter at their school or join our PHS SWENext chapter. With our guidance, Carlsbad High School is following our model for bringing a SWENext chapter to their campus. We hope to eventually establish a SWENext chapter at every high school in San Diego County. We want those schools to have the same opportunities that we do.
I am very excited to be invited to be the keynote speaker for next year’s SWE Local Conference in San Diego.
Sara: I would also like to thank the SWE collegiate members and professionals for sharing their personal journeys at our Girls in STEM Inspiration Day. It inspired the young girls that were there as well as the high school girls that were running the event.