With initiatives that employ Indian women living in rural communities and workshops that teach technical writing skills to students, the Women in Engineering Affinity Group of Madras Section and the IEEE student branch at Jeppiaar Engineering College in Chennai, both in India, each received IEEE 2012 WIE Affinity Group of the Year awards.
The WIE awards, which include a certificate of recognition and US $250 to support future activities, are given to affinity groups that have shown significant achievements such as membership growth and involvement, success in organizing events, and strong leadership.
The IEEE 2012 WIE Affinity Group of the Year award went to the Madras Section. IEEE Senior Member Ramalatha Marimuthu, who is the chair and also the founder of the Madras WIE affinity group, as well as a former chair of WIE, says, “There is a lot of support and resources available for women engineers, and I strive to publicize this wherever I go.” Her persistence helped grow membership and increase the number female engineers in her region.
“The Madras group was selected for its breadth of programs and for its outward-looking focus on improving, empowering, and enabling the women in the local community,” says Nita Patel, 2013 chair of WIE.
One of the affinity group’s most successful efforts last year was the Green Technology Tribal Women Entrepreneurial Project. The group collaborated with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, in Coimbatore, and trained women in remote parts of the Madras section to manufacture eco-friendly products, such as clothing, scarves, and handbags. To fabricate these products, IEEE students designed machines to extract fiber from banana skins and compress coir fiber pith, the material between the hard, inner shell and the outer husk of a coconut. This fiber was then used to make clothing and other products. The project, performed in the students’ senior year, received funding and support from Region 10 and the WIE committee.
The affinity group is also working to help women return to engineering after they might have taken a break for family or other personal reasons. Marimuthu notes a large part of the talent pool in her country is lost because many women are reluctant to return to their careers in the face of societal and cultural barriers that work against women becoming successful and earning a good income. One way the affinity group plans to approach this problem is by easing the women back into the workforce by first, for example, getting them to mentor engineering students. This builds confidence and often leads to their seeking a position in engineering, according to Marimuthu.
For its diversity of programs, good communication with members, and engagement within the region’s technical community, the Jeppiaar Engineering College’s IEEE student branch’s WIE affinity group received the IEEE 2012 WIE Student Branch Affinity Group of the Year Award.
Among its activities, the branch helped its members assigned to write their first technical papers by guiding them through the process with writing workshops and helping them set deadlines. The branch is also publishing a newsletter for its members to inform them about events, learning opportunities, member accomplishments, and jobs.
According to IEEE Student Member Shalini Santhosh, chair of the WIE student branch, just being part of the group is a nurturing experience for young women and gives them confidence to pursue a career in engineering. One of her branch’s biggest assets, she says, is its alumni network of former students. Many are now employed at top IT companies, yet are still involved with WIE and the student branch.
Santhosh also points to Marimuthu as a great source of inspiration for the students. Their two groups hold dozens of joint events each year. One meeting in 2012 drew 450 participants from across the Madras Section, its biggest success to date. The two-day forum, called “Empower, Energize, and Emerge for Growth,” focused on how students could become entrepreneurs.
The student branch is planning to do more to help its members develop skills and knowledge with more workshops and mentoring to enable them to better compete in the job market once they graduate. It is also looking for opportunities for its members to meet with women working in technical fields so they can learn more about their workday lives.
“This WIE award has encouraged us to deliver more innovative and useful events for our members,” Santhosh says. “We hope to keep up the momentum and continue bringing in more women engineers.”