Society of Women Engineers Region E Blog

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Better Know a Section: Columbia University

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Better Know a Section: E054 – Columbia University

Section website:
Section contact email:


About how many members do you have? What is the (approximate) male to female ratio of you SWE members?
The first meeting of the 2008-09 year was attended by 90 members, and our listserv goes out to over 500 people, including undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni, faculty, staff and other
Columbia SWE fans. Our membership includes male members, which are no more than 17 of those 90 members.
How many officers do you have?
There are 10 positions on the Columbia SWE Executive Board: 
Lauren Fong – PresidentAmy Gao – Vice President
Jennifer Hui – Treasurer
Kelly Chen – Secretary
Vivian Feig – Alumni Chair
Erin Crafts – Community Outreach Chair
Hoda Rifai – Corporate Chair
Jiaying Xu – Membership Chair
Thea Zimnicki – Mentorship Chair
Mailing Wu – WebmasterEveryone on our board can be contacted at The SWE Executive Board holds weekly
meetings. The times and locations are published and meetings are open to all SWE members
Are you a commuter school, or do most students live on campus?
Columbia University is located in Morningside Heights (between the Upper West Side and Harlem) in New York City. Most students live on campus, some live in housing near and around campus, and others commute from other parts of Manhattan and other boroughs.
How many students are in engineering?
There were 68,121 bachelor’s degrees in engineering awarded in the United States in 2006. (Source:
At Columbia there were 1432 undergraduates in engineering and 1433 graduates during the 2007-2008 school year. (Source:
What would you tell someone if they were first coming to your campus?
“You may recognize these buildings from various popular films such as Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2, Spiderman, Spiderman 2 and Marathon Man. But the campus can also be seen in the lesser known films, Punchline and New York Minute.”          

“It’s also quite historic. Columbia was established in 1754 and now has a student population of almost 25,000.”

“Watch your step! The bricks are quite treacherous.”

How often does your section attend a Regional or National Conference?
Columbia’s SWE is represented at the National Conference every year.
Has your section hosted a SWE conference before, or plan to in the future?
Columbia’s SWE would love to host a Regional Conference in the future.
What is your school and/or college of engineering known for?
Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering combines the advantages of small programs with the vast resources of a major research university. The single greatest noteworthy fact is Columbia’s location in New York City, which holds a broad range of social, cultural and business communities with opportunities for students to expand their horizons.          

Notable Columbia alumni include William Barclay Parsons (1882) who was the chief engineer of New
York City’s first subway system, Edwin Howard Armstrong (1913) who developed the method of
frequency modulation (FM) for radio broadcasting, and Michael J. Massimino (1984) who was one of
two NASA astronauts aboard the March 2002 Columbia shuttle mission, which installed a new camera
on the Hubble Space Telescope.  


Section History

What are some of the things your section does to archive its history?
We maintain a website which details past events and executive boards. Extensive photograph
collections are used to document each event and uploaded onto our online photo storage website. At
the end of every year, the outgoing president leaves a disk with the incoming president and another in
the club’s storage locker in the activities office, with all the information future executive boards will
Do you have any suggestions on how other sections can keep track of their own history?
A website is a fun way to keep track of club history, with stories and pictures, as well as share those facts with the world.
Are there any unique stories about your section’s history?
We have held career panels, company information sessions, study breaks and group outings.
Has your section been the home of any famous SWE members or other people?
As of this writing, there are many notable female alumni from Columbia’s School of Engineering, with various noteworthy accomplishments. Columbia also has many noteworthy female faculty. Keren Bergman is a professor of Electrical Engineering and has served on a panel that was formed by the national security community to formulate a national integrated high-end computing program. Siu-Wai Chan is a professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, and focuses on searching for understanding of boundaries and interfaces and applying that knowledge for better engineered electrical properties of materials for new devices. Maria Chudnovsky is an associate professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research and was named one of the “brilliant ten” young scientists of 2004 by Popular Science Magazine. Rama Cont is an associate professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, whose concentration is applied probability and stochastic modeling. Patricia Culligan is a professor of Civil Engineering and focuses on experimental and theoretical modeling of problems in subsurface non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) transport and remediation, as well as alternative strategies for urban and wastewater management. Elizabeth Hillman is an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology and is co-chair of World Molecular Imaging Congress 2008. Julia Hirschberg is a professor of Computer Science and focuses on computational linguistics, especially in spoken language processing. Gail Kaiser is a professor of Computer Science and was named an NSF Presidential Young Investigator in Software Engineering and Software Systems in 1988. Elisa Konofagou is an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and focuses on ultrasonics, elasticity imaging and soft tissue mechanics. Helen Lu is an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering and the advisor for SWE. She focuses on interface tissue engineering and the formulation of complex tissue systems. Tal Malkin is an assistant professor of Computer Science and focuses on developing mathematical foundations for applications requiring security and privacy. Kathy McKeown is a professor of Computer Science and received a National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women in 1991. Faye McNeill is an assistant professor of Chemical Engineering and her research contributes to understanding the effects of human activity on the environment through quantifying the chemistry of heterogeneous and multiphase systems affecting the earth’s atmosphere. Gertrude Neumark is a professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, and specializes in electrical and optical properties of wide band gap semiconductors. Mariana Olvera-Cravioto is an assistant professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research and is currently researching stochastic systems, queueing theory, heavy-tailed distributions and inventory control. Ah-Hyung Alissa Park is an assistant professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and will be part of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s global research effort investigating Nanoparticle Ionic Materials (NIMS) for carbon dioxide capture and sequestration. Nina Shapley is an assistant professor of Chemical Engineering, specializing in cell motility, motor molecules and integrin-cytoskeleton interactions. Latha Venkataraman is an assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, and explores the electronic transport and mechanical properties of materials on the nanometer scale. Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic is a professor of Biomedical Engineering and was inducted to the Women in Technology Hall of fame in 2008. Amelia Earhart attended Columbia for one year but studied medicine.

Event Highlight

Describe an event that your section does that relates to (pick one): outreach, your unique section, a social activity, technical learning, professional development, joint events with other organizations, etc.
Our outreach program is called SWE 116 (It’s a play on the phrase “Sweet 16.” SWE, because we are the Society of Women Engineers. 116, because Columbia is located at 116th and Broadway in Manhattan.) This past November we welcomed Girl Scout Troop 1271 from Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, to our campus and did activities in our labs and classrooms involving Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering. The day closed with a lunch and discussion with professors and female alumni, followed by a tour of the
campus. [Please see photos and captions for details.]
What kind of new events do you plan on starting at your section?
SWE 116 is new this year and we are looking to expand it with other groups of students. We also hope to collaborate more with nearby collegiate sections. This past semester, Cooper Union’s SWE hosted a holiday party, with Columbia’s SWE and NYU Polytechnic’s SWE in attendance. The event was a huge success and we hope to do something similar and maybe host a similar event in the future
Do you do anything special or interact with a nearby professional SWE section?
The annual SWE NY Professional Panel was held at Columbia last spring. We welcomed SWE NY
professional members to speak to current female engineers about their experiences in college and in
the workplace.
Does your section interact with other nearby sections?
After attending Cooper Union SWE’s holiday party, members have stayed in touch and shared new ideas. As mentioned Columbia SWE would like to host a similar event in the future with Cooper Union, NYU Polytechnic and any other sections in the area who would like to come to Morningside Heights!

Section Strategies

What does your section do to attract and retain members?
One way we help to ensure retention of women in engineering is our Big Sis/Little Sister Program. A junior or senior SWE member is paired with a first-year or sophomore, usually in the same major. They meet for the first time at a major event put on by SWE’s Mentorship committee. After that, the pairs are free to meet up and discuss majors, college life, homework and everything else! Another event in the spring brings all the pairs together again for a fun event somewhere in New York, like bowling or ice skating.          

SWE Points is a new program this year. Members earn points for attending SWE events, such as the
SWE/Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Study Break and Morgan Stanley Resume Night, and
participating in SWE initiatives, such as submitting a resume for the Resume Book. Each event is worth a different number of points. Competition is fierce for the reward…

How do you reward members?
The top 10 members with the highest number of points each receive a free SWE t-shirt. The number 1 point-getter will receive a choice of an iPod or Broadway tickets. SWE members at Columbia know that SWE is a valuable resource for their future career/job/internship needs, as well as a great group of individuals who will support them in their engineering endeavors and in life.
Some states get cold in the winter. How do you get members out when it’s cold outside?
New York is no exception to the cold winter. Aside from the fact that SWE members must walk to the Mudd engineering building for class (no one really sleeps in the lab, right?), we hope to take advantage of the cold weather by holding having a fun event like ice skating, at one of New York’s free rinks.
How does your section obtain funds to help defray the costs of attending a conference?
Along with seeking corporate sponsorship, conference attendance is made possible in part by the club allotment, as well as partial sponsorship by the Activities Board at Columbia and the Engineering Student Council.

Thank you for this opportunity to be Better Known. We appreciate this opportunity to tell all interested Region E blog members who we are, and we also appreciate the Colbert Report reference. Please contact us at

The SWE 116 group!

The SWE 116 group!

Check out more Columbia University Photos at the Region E Album!


One thought on “Better Know a Section: Columbia University

  1. Hey Columbia SWE Section! I’m really excited to have the 2012 Region E Conference on your campus. I know you said the Broadway tickets are a tentative thing, but I want to encourage you to really try for that. I think seeing a Broadway show is an important part of experiencing New York City.

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