colleen layman swe president

6 Unforgettable Memories as President of the Society of Women Engineers

On July 1, 2015, I had the honor of becoming the 53rd president of the Society of Women Engineers. (For the non-engineers out there, SWE is an educational, not-for-profit organization that has a mission to support and encourage women and girls to aspire, advance and achieve in the fields of engineering and computer science.)

What a year! Leading a 35,000-member global organization definitely had its challenges, but I can honestly say that it was an incredible experience and an honor I will never forget. Here are six of my favorite memories:

  1. I hosted SWE’s seventh annual Capitol Hill Visit Day, at which members of SWE and 27 other diversity and engineering organizations advocated for a more inclusive and diverse U.S. STEM workforce. We educated members of Congress about the benefits of this type of engineering workforce, which includes helping to maintain our competitiveness through innovation. We also talked with senators, congressmen and congresswomen about the application of Title IX of 1972’s educational amendments to STEM education; the importance of continuing to fund the National Science Foundation; and the importance of re-authorization of the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act.
  2. I attended the White House Women’s Day Reception, which was hosted by Nancy Pelosi and attended by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden. Held during Women’s History Month in March, it honored armed services female veterans including retired Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, the Air Force’s first female general.
  3. I attended the White House Science Fair, in which winners of middle and high school science fairs and other STEM competitions across the country participated. I had the opportunity to talk with students, walk through the White House and look at the projects. I even chatted with astronaut Cady Coleman and Bill Nye the Science Guy!


  4. I worked with leaders of several other diversity-oriented engineering associations including NSBE, SHPE and AISES, and helped launch the 50K Coalition. The 50K Coalition’s goal is to increase the number of diverse engineers (in terms of gender, race and ethnicity) graduating annually in the U.S. to 50,000 by 2025—a number that represents a 66 percent increase in the current annual graduation rate of students receiving Bachelor of Science in engineering degrees.
  5. SWE held its second annual European conference — WE Europe — in Madrid, Spain. I was thrilled to visit the lovely city of Madrid for the first time, and to meet with female engineers from over 30 countries. One thing was clear: No matter where we are in the world, women in technology and engineering face many of the same challenges. Opportunities to network and share experiences are something all of us crave.
  6. I found myself featured in articles and blogs for a wide range of publications including the San Francisco Chronicle. The interview that stands out most would have to be the one for Cosmopolitan magazine (yes, Cosmo) for its July 2016 issue. The article is titled “How to Figure Out Exactly What Your Dream Job Should Be.” I was excited that this mainstream publication sought the viewpoint of a woman in a STEM field.

As I look back on all of this, I only hope that I was able to affect positive change and advance SWE’s mission through my involvement in this important organization. And I’d like to thank HDR for all of the support I received on this journey. I felt supported and encouraged by everyone within our organization, from our executive leadership to my direct supervisors, to the project teams I work with and even our clients.

Power Generation Water Practice Lead