As a first-generation college student from Appalachia, Savannah Hays, a Biomedical Engineering student at West Virginia University, did not grow up with many women mentors in the engineering field. Since arriving on campus, she has been closely involved with the WVU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She is currently serving as the Secretary of this club. While attending regional and national conferences, Savannah learned about SWENext, the high school equivalent of SWE, and also learned that West Virginia does not have any chapters. Savannah’s proposed Newman Civic Fellowship project will be to help form at least two SWENext chapters in West Virginia, which will serve young women ages 13-17. These clubs will provide both engineering and college preparation mentorship to girls in these communities. With high poverty and unemployment rates, helping our young people succeed in post-secondary education is vital. We want to educate and employ our West Virginia youth and encourage them to stay in our state. But we need our young people to have the resources they need to make this happen. Her project will reap benefits for our state for generations to come.
Growing up in West Virginia within rural Appalachia, a person with a college engineering degree is difficult to stumble upon and it is even more difficult to find a woman with a college engineering degree. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women represent only 16% of workers in the engineering field. As a young female high school student, I aspired to become an engineer. I was thankful to have a basketball coach and mentor who was a chemical engineer to provide me with knowledge about the field and mentoring to attend college. As a first-generation female engineering student, I felt a little lost when it came to college preparation. Currently at West Virginia University, I serve as the Secretary of the WVU Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and I am developing a SWENext Club for female high school students in the Morgantown, WV area to provide them with resources for college preparation and professional development in engineering careers. After the establishment of the Morgantown SWENext Club, I will expand my outreach to other parts of West Virginia to provide female high school students with the resources, opportunities, and knowledge I wish I had in high school.