Saturday, November 2, 2013

WE13 - The Society of Women Engineers Annual conference

I'm still worn out from attending the SWE annual conference in Baltimore.
As I looked at my bill, checking out of the hotel, I found myself thinking - yikes! 
Like a good Girl Scout, I feel I need to do an evaluation.   Sure, the organizers send out an electronic overview eval to fill out (and I have.)   But they don't ask the questions that DeLuc taught us to ask and that Nick and I used for twenty-five years with the legendary Girl Scout Troop 757. 

The Evaluation Questions

1.  What was the purpose?
2.  Was it satisfied?
3.  What did you like best?
4.  What did you like least?
5.  What would you do differently?

This wasn't my planned concept as I was driving along (best thinking in car and shower!) but it works and it's structured making all the engineers happy!

The Purpose

Whoa, good question!  I was asked something about what I was looking to get out of the conference.  I'd love to get the SWE Board (aka BoD), conference planning board and staff to answer what they think it was.  It is so easy to get immersed in the logistics and numbers.  At conference, there are  business sessions, educational workshops, outreach activities for students K-12 and celebratory banquets.  Whew!   For reasons of schedule and/or budget, I've missed the last two conferences.  Thus, my primary purpose was to connect with friends whom I only see at these conferences.

My purposes were satisfied, read on for details.

Liked Best

1.  Given my purpose, I liked best making all the connections.  They fall into a couple of categories.

   a) Collegians.  I love our collegiate members.  They're full of energy and enthusiasm.  On my first day, I gave a short presentation at the Members-at-Large leadership summit on Succession Planning.  Hanging around for other topics and discussions, I bonded with Lydia over a snarky Minions reference.  That lead to other discussions and that's how I accidentally picked up another mentee!
I also reconnected with Hannah, whom I get to see later this week and met Isabelle who followed up on diversity questions.  

   b) Professionals.  My husband Nick always laughs at how I go off for some event and come back with more BFFs. The joy of these conferences is I get to see and talk face-to-face with a lot of good women and the occasional good man whom I've met at previous conferences and/or with whom I serve on SWE committees or who are facebook friends with the not-quite-full conversations.
I actually went to a technical session because Ashley and Alya were presenting.  I was pleasantly surprised that I followed their discussion on nanotechnology and still remember much of it.

   c)  Spending lots of time with a few people who live too far away.   I shared a room with Jacey and really appreciated her coping with a bit of Red Sox nation bounding about three nights.  I had a long deep visit with my chosen niece Trish over lunch one day.  It really does feel like we're related, and not just because of baseball.  For the first time, I had a long breakfast with Colette whom I see at SWE  and NAP.  I'll say no more since as she put it, we were in executive session.

2.  When I'm at a conference, I always take off to do something local, not SWE related, often with a Girl Scout friend.  In Milwaukee years ago, Cheryl took me on a tour of the synagogues and cheese tasting, in Kansas City, Sherry took me on a tour of historical places and to have barbeque with her troop.   After SWE Detroit, Betty and I went to the Motown museum.  But sometimes, I just go off by myself.  In Birmingham, I went to the Civil Rights center.  
     This year, I went on the tour of  Camden yards.  Camden yards is where the Baltimore Orioles play baseball.   The tour was given by a man who had retired from the CIA, exact job title not given.   I may have called him out, quietly because whenever we had to be in two subgroups to go on the elevator, he put one of the three men in charge.  Did I mention this was a SWE organized walking tour and we had an official, tall, SWE person in charge with us and there were about 15, maybe more, women?    I asked "why do you keep picking a man" and he said "habit"  and I said "you better break it!"
     High spots of the tour - sitting in the press box (at the score keepers seat) and the dugout; visiting the electronics control center.   Cool stuff, the stadium was designed by a woman who was a major fan and knew what's what.  When she wasn't sure where to put the bullpens, she asked other fans!  The head groundsperson is also a woman!   She has access to detailed weather reports and info and can turn on the sprinklers from home.  The way the sod was laid down,  soil over sand over something, shale maybe,  once it stops raining the field is playable in twenty minutes!
   Since I couldn't be in Boston or home for the first four games of the World Series, this was a nice way to connect because it really is a lovely ballpark.   Must go back someday, with Nick, for a game.
And you know, we now have three trophies too!  Just sayin'

Liked Least

1. Personally, I hated the cost.   Even using senior discounts and sharing a hotel room, the transportation, accommodations and registration fees really added up.  For women who get the salaries they should, it's not bad but for those heading into fixed incomes, it's hard.

2.  It was awful being away from home for the World Series.  I ended up watching the Red Sox in our hotel room, on an over-crowded cramped flight to Denver, in a bar at the Denver airport and  using GameDay on my phone, again crowded cramped plane, and finally a call from Nick that Koji had picked off the runner at first.   I need to be with Nick to hug and cheer or cry together.

3. What I really liked the least was needing to make hard choices - do I go to the Bylaws Committee meeting or the Multi-Cultural Committee meeting?  Do I go to the full MAL meeting or the Flash Talks?  Do I go on my tour of Camden Yards or the Senate meeting?

All of this is my mini-version of something I observed globally.   There was an overarching sense of everybody trying to do too much in too little time.   My presentation was based on a 90-120 min workshop and I was given 20min.  Yes, I streamlined the content to fit and talked really, really fast but there was no time for the discussions which are  so vital to the learning experience.   I decided that this too much to do/too little time is a bad model for people and especially for women.  I believe in quality over quantity.  Do less and do it better.   It's been a feminist issue for a long time - having it all - all at once or maybe some now, some later.  You know where I stand on it!

Do differently

1. Spend the money and take American not United!
2.  Wait to see how the Red Sox are doing before registering and really, this year was so exciting, I might not have gone. 
3.  Find a way to convince others that we can't long endure at this pace.  Life is full of tough choices, let's not let a conference meant to support us become part of the problem, not the solution!

Final Thoughts

   So, you know, I actually am glad that I went to SWE13 in spite of not wanting to look at my credit card statements and being exhausted.   I did make it back for the last two games of the World Series and we're still celebrating.   WE14 is going to be in Los Angeles.   The timing is about the same.  I'm leaning towards going.

© 2013 Esther A. Heller