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Interview: Senior Jessica Schein Co-Chairs Women Engineers Event

Jessica Schein, a senior in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, is co-chair of the 2007 Region H Conference of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

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January 24, 2007 | by Megan Fellman

Jessica Schein, a senior in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, is co-chair of the 2007 Region H Conference of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Hosted by the Northwestern collegiate section, the conference will be held Jan. 26 to 28 in Evanston and Chicago.

The Midwest region is the largest SWE region in the country, spanning eight states. Schein and her 12 fellow SWE conference directors have raised more than $190,000 from 62 corporate sponsors and Northwestern for the conference, with nearly 700 students and professionals attending.

Schein, a New York City native and tour guide for Northwestern's undergraduate admissions office, will complete her classes at the end of this quarter and graduate in June 2007 with a B.S. in applied mathematics. With her extra time during the spring quarter, she hopes to participate in the McCormick School's information program for prospective students.

Q: How long have you been involved in SWE?

A: From the very beginning. I've found a lot of support in SWE. My first roommate at Northwestern was an engineer from Kansas City, and we attended the SWE freshman brunch, which is held during New Student Week. Four years later, many of us from that event are planning this conference together. I've been co-program director, then president and now conference co-chair, along with Kelly Migliazzo. Our numbers have grown over the last four years. Today we have approximately 130 active members in our SWE collegiate section.

Q:  Has Northwestern hosted the regional conference before?

A: No, this is the first time. We put in our bid -- it was pretty competitive -- and won. In fact, it's never been in Chicago before. The conference is a professional and social networking forum for students, professionals and corporate representatives. We'll have two keynote speakers, business meetings and information sessions on topics like work-life balance, what is nanotechnology, marketing through a resume and the energy industry. Fifty-one companies will be represented at our career fair held at the Norris University Center. I found my past two summer internships at a SWE career fair. Both of the companies -- BP and Rolls-Royce -- are involved in our conference, which warms my heart.

For the fundraising, we created a solicitation package. I found the whole experience to be extremely valuable -- easier to do than getting a job for myself. The money we've raised is a record for this regional conference. We -- the SWE conference board -- were able to turn the conference planning into an independent study course in project management with credit for two quarters, which was great. We certainly have been working hard and have learned a lot about managing a complex project.

Q: What has your experience been as a female in engineering?

A: I have no complaints. I haven't felt disadvantaged, even when I have been the only woman in a class. I've had some outstanding professors here who take the time to get to know their students. I was able to conduct research with Alvin Bayliss for two quarters on hydrogen as an alternative energy source, and he's been a great mentor. Hydrogen is abundant, but in its gaseous form it is flammable, and you can't transport it. We looked at optimizing a reversible process where hydrogen is combined with a metal, forming a transportable solid from which hydrogen could be extracted later.

At the McCormick School nearly a third of the students are female, which is high nationally. I'm involved in McCormick's annual Career Day for Girls [for middle and high school students], and participants ask me, “Why engineering?” I tell them if they like science or math they should consider engineering. They need to stay motivated, take Advanced Placement courses if they can and shouldn't be shy. There is something to be said about challenging yourself and doing something that not a lot of women are doing.

Q: Do you have a job lined up after graduation?

A: I will be moving back to New York City and working as a research analyst at Bear Stearns, an investment banking firm. It's not an engineering position, but I found I could market my applied math experience in many ways. I want to get involved in SWE by becoming a professional counselor for one of the collegiate sections, possibly at The Cooper Union in Manhattan. I'm looking forward to going back to New York. Since coming to Northwestern I haven't been there for more than 10 days at a time. It will be a different city now that I am entering a new phase in my life.