A huge goal of mine is to ensure every girl in the world gets the opportunity to have an education. And one of the groups I support who helps girls get into and stay in STEM programs is the Society of Women Engineers. In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8 each year), I want to talk about my niece, Haley Barnes. She is a student member of SWE and is a SWEFL (Society of Women Engineers Future Leaders program) – one of just a few in the nation. This enables her to be a part of very exciting events such as the Washington DC SWE Capitol Hill Event held March 2-3, 2016. Here is this bright young woman’s view of the future of women in engineering and the politicians they encounter.
Washington DC SWE Capitol Hill Event by Guest Blogger, Haley Barnes
The Society of Women Engineers Capitol Hill event was a fantastic first experience of national government. The cultural experience, the congressional visits, the networking, and the development I was able to receive all contributed to an amazing experience I will never forget. Special thanks to APEX Leadership Mastery for their sponsorship that made this trip possible for me!
On my first day, I received training that included hearing testimonies from professionals who attended past Capitol Hill events. We discussed the issues we would be advocating for such as:
- Reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act,
- Fully supporting the National Science Foundation in FY 2017,
- Supporting HR 467, the STEM Opportunities Act,
- Ensuring Title IX is appropriately applied across all federal agencies, and
- Embracing policies related to work/life balance for STEM professionals and families.
After researching the senator and three congressmen my group was to meet with, we practiced role playing how we would best address our concerns with each official.
After this session, I attended a Congressional Reception where I was able to network with attending professionals as well as hear from the National SWE President, Colleen Layman, Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson, Honorable Donna Edwards, Honorable Dan Lipinski, Honorable Suzanne Bonamici, and Honorable Robert Hanna. Each congressperson spoke highly of our initiative and work as an organization. It increased my own personal pride in the National Society of Women Engineers organization but also in my purpose in attending this Capitol Hill event. My section was even able to take a UNT SWE photo with our National President!
The following day, I attended a Congressional Breakfast which hosted Christine Merdon, COO and Head Architect of the Capitol revitalization project. She spoke on how she was able to transition her professional engineering skills to project management of the Capitol Hill area. It was extremely interesting learning more about the building details of the Capitol Hill building, as well the details of the underground tunnels of each building and the special remodels they have had to put in place as technology and the visitation population grew in D.C. She was followed by Erin Prangely of the American Association of University Women. Ms. Prangely spoke on how to communicate with Congress and what to expect when first walking into their office. She explained how it is most often even more important to talk to staff than the politicians themselves, as staff ensure the direction of the politician. Her perspective emphasized the importance of well-prepared communication in order to communicate or achieve an agenda, no matter who you are approaching.
From there, my group spoke to the staffs of Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, Rep. Michael Burgess, and Rep. Michael McCaul about each of the issues we were advocating for. It was extremely interesting talking to the Republican staff because they were hesitant to offer any solutions for our issues. Senator Ted Cruz’s legislative aide commented on our work/life balance policies request as “tricky.” She stated “it becomes more complex and difficult when you mandate what all businesses in a state should provide.” Though I personally am an advocate for paid parent leave and/or childcare benefits for all full-time workers, the perspectives I received from the Republican staff challenged my thought process of how to find a solution. This demonstrated just how necessary it is to view multiple perspectives and analyze as much data as possible before making a decision and taking action.
Shortly after meeting with each of the representatives, it was time for me to fly home. Overall, it seems very surreal that I went to Washington D.C. in the middle of a school week, but I am so happy I did it. The experience dropped me into a new culture (one of strong winds and confusing metro stations) and a new mindsight of possibly pursuing public office in my future. In my opinion, Capitol Hill had a funny way of feeling like home. My voice was listened to by policy makers; my presence was appreciated by the National Society of Women Engineers organization. I feel like I made a difference in sharing our policies and my personal experience as a collegiate engineer-in-training. I am entirely grateful to APEX Leadership Mastery for making this possible for me. Their sponsorship has opened new doors for me in ways I had never previously imagined for myself.