GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

Engineering demos begin – SUCCESS Camp 2017

Standing at the front of the class, sweat running from my brow to behind my ear, smiling wildly. Looking at nothing and everything at once. The first sentence you speak in front of a crowd is the hardest, the leap into the pool. I wrote the word “MENTORSHIP” on the dry erase board in large block letters. I turned back to the class. They looked at me, attentive, poised. I felt a conflicted mix of panic and delight at their eagerness. A few seconds passed, and I took a deep breath. I jumped in. It was Friday afternoon, and my first time teaching at camp.

There are two paths you can take once you embark on a public speaking journey. Either after a few sentences you can feel a calm settle in or you can lose every thought in your brain and stumble along, unsure if you are even forming complete thoughts along the way. I have experienced both, and while they begin with hints of insecurity, one path is clearly more pleasant than the other. I waded through the shallow end of the pool, waiting for which this would be.

It was a unique thing that happened. I have taught classes in the US, and in those situations, I’ve felt varying emotions – excitement, inspiration, contentment, glee. Of all the groups I’ve taught, though, I’ve not ever felt lifted by a group of students. Raised hands, numerous thoughtful questions, engagement without reservation. I had witnessed this from the sidelines for the past few days at camp, but now I was viewing it from the front of the room. The students were elevating me. My thoughts became clearer as I rose above clouds. My voice became more animated. I passed out worksheets after what was supposed to be my intro discussion and realized that already an hour had passed. I opened a bottle of water and drank the entire thing at once, shaking my head in splendid disbelief.

Proposed bottle rocket designs

The first hands-on engineering activity, bottle rockets, began as I floated away from the podium. Sarah had presented the scientific concepts the day prior, but now it was time to build. In small groups, the campers were given empty 1.5 L bottles, a battery of other supplies, and asked to use their knowledge to construct a rocket that would fly the highest. Nine makeshift workstations popped up around the room.

Maria measuring the nose cone
Bottle rocket building

Nose cones from colored construction paper. Fins from cardstock. Clay for weight. Hot glue guns lying in wait, molten strands falling from their nozzles and hardening into opaque lumps on the flat brown paper bags atop which they sat. When the electricity cut off at 5 PM, proto-rockets were stashed in various corners of the room out of sight of other groups’ prying eyes. Even when there’s no prize, it’s always a competition. The launch was scheduled for “sunny and clear hours” on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week.

Decorating bottle rockets

After dinner that evening, we bid Caroline adieu. She was our first UM team member to head back to the US, back to work, back to some semblance of her other life. It was difficult to see her go, because I had enjoyed getting to know her, but also because it reminded me of my ever-dwindling time I had remaining in Liberia. We were one week in. Camp was halfway over.

UM SWE team at UL Fendell Campus (L-R Jill, Aeriel, Sarah, Kirsten, Val, Caroline, Becca, Melinda)
GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

Camp continues: Experiences in the classroom – SUCCESS Camp 2017

I stood under a door overhang just past the clock tower next to two other men, staring out at the rain fall. Not violent, but a consistent pour. Volume of the drops against the sidewalk surging and shrinking until a steady rain was dialed in. My rain jacket had gotten me this far, but the shell now felt saturated. Drips from the hood hit me around the knees and worked their way down my shins to collect in my sandals. It was Wednesday morning, classes for the day had not yet started, and I could already press my big toe gently down and see water bubbling out of my sole.

When I heard the rain intensity weaken, I had a moment to make the decision of waiting or walking. I boldly walked, but immediately recognized my error. The brief lull gave way to full blown cats and dogs, and there were no more door overhangs until I arrived at the Engineering building. I had also decided early on in my foray from breakfast that I would protect my backpack containing my computer before the rest of my body, so my coat was acting as a rain tarp with my hood as an anchor point. The arms of the coat hung at my side. I reached the steps leading into the Engineering building with my computer safe and the front of my shirt a shade darker, soaked to the skin.

Aeriel started the morning by introducing a multi-day group project – developing a case study, including solutions, for the waste management issues in Liberia. The groups were given background materials that contained research on the current state of waste management in Liberia, example case studies and attempted solutions for other countries, and information on landfills and recycling programs. There were suggested questions to guide the groups, with the end goal for each group to give a fifteen-minute presentation on the solutions they developed. It was not an easy task. There were obstacles to consider from many vantages – economic and political constraints, the public awareness battle, feasibility in terms of time and scope, corruption. The groups took a collective breath. Aeriel mentioned that the winning group would receive a fabulous prize. The groups began immediately working. Armed with WiFi, poster paper, colored pencils, rulers, glue, and courage, the race began. The finish line was Monday morning.



After supper, I leaned into the breeze from the railing just off the cafeteria. It was the coolest I’d felt yet. Walking back from the Engineering building that afternoon, I had seen one of the campers, Littie, wearing a winter jacket, green and puffy with a fur-trimmed hood. I still had shorts on, and I felt thankful for them. Watching the rest of the evening light slip from the sky, I heard singing. Softly at first, then building with added voices. Gospel, soulful and sweet, voices climbing, weaving. Beautiful to the point of heartache. It was a group of campers lingering at the dining tables in the cafeteria. Clouds were breaking in the distance.

We woke to sun on Thursday morning. Striking. I blinked a dozen times in surprise and mild pain before I could open my eyes fully. Then I smiled. But with the sun came the heat, previous rainfall boiling out of the ground and rising. I felt a little like steamed broccoli by the time I arrived at the classroom. The heat continued through the day, but nothing like the fires that were started in the late afternoon.

The workshop was named Conflict Resolution. It started with the usual flow with which the campers had become familiar: worksheets were passed out and filled in and discussions proceeded in small or large groups. Aeriel and Caroline then introduced the final activity of the workshop. It involved role playing a conflict that escalates and then resolves. Small groups had total freedom to choose their storylines, characters, and steps taken for conflict resolution. The UM graduate students decided it was their duty to lead by example, so we ran into the hallway to throw together a conflict. We shuffled through some ideas, landing on a bit of a soap opera-esque story. The details are not important, but suffice to say, I was the aggressor and Aeriel was the subject of my wrath. Of course, as the story is supposed to go, we worked through our issue, but not before I frightened even myself with my passionate response to Aeriel’s alleged indiscretion. Perhaps it’s the environment in which I’ve been for the past several days. The openness of emotion is so prevalent, so embedded in every day, every workshop, every interaction. Either that, or I was suffering from sleep deprivation. Whatever the cause, I BELLOWED at Aeriel. I did not know I had it in me. I’ve never used the word “bellow” before, because I have always been waiting for the right moment. This is the right moment, because it is precisely what happened.

I’m not sure what we as graduate students were thinking. Our performance was, of course, well-received by the campers, whooping and hollering in response. In the US, an inspired performance as an example would probably be required to rouse a classroom. This classroom did not need additional inspiration. The graduate students’ skit was three minutes. The first group of campers took eight minutes to set up and resolve their conflict. The next several took ten minutes each. Elaborate, detailed stories of made-up conflicts. Shouting, pretend fighting, total immersion in the acting. The electricity on campus has a mandatory shut-off period from 5-7 PM, which is when we are scheduled to end our day. At 5 PM, we had four groups left to present their skit. Lack of lights and fans were paid no mind. The show went on. And on. We walked out of the Engineering building at 5:45 PM. I smiled realizing this was my first classroom experience in which students happily volunteered to stay past the scheduled end to class. Presumed requirements, like electricity, fell away in the face of joy.



GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

Tuesday – SUCCESS Camp 2017

First day of camp complete, full of fits and starts that began with my sleep. I tossed and turned, trying my best to remember how tired I was just hours prior in the waking dream that is international travel. At some point, I had lost the ability to connect the dots between where I was now and where I was three days ago, like slipping from one plane of existence to another. So while my wakefulness could easily be attributed to jet lag, there was little thought in my mind of where I’d come from, only where I was going. I turned my alarm clock off two minutes before it was set to go off and headed for the Nescafe packets.

The cafeteria was full of campers when I arrived for breakfast. Cassava, plantains, hard-boiled eggs, and stew-gravy to pour over top of any and everything that made it on to your plate. The camp was held in a classroom across campus from the cafeteria in the Engineering building. We passed the clock tower on the way, each side of the tower stuck on a different time. Forty wooden chairs with desks attached to an arm, “UL PROPERTY” stamped in white paint on the backs. Overhead fans pushing around the humid mid-morning air, a white board, a podium. We began the first workshop covering leadership styles forty-five minutes behind schedule, which I think is on time. All seemed to be flowing smoothly, until a competition was introduced.

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Caroline and Aeriel lead the class
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Florentee takes a personality quiz

In my experience, the sound of yelling because you’re ecstatic and shouting because you’re hysterically angry is not so different at first blush. The same goes for laughing and sobbing. At the extremes of emotions, subtleties are washed out by amplitude. The competition described by Caroline seemed innocent enough. Slips of paper with numbers from 1-20 were placed randomly within a circle made of string on the carpeted floor. The goal for groups of six was to touch the numbers successively, one number at a time, and only one person’s hand could be in the circle at any given time. A lesson in teamwork and communication, right? It started well. We practiced. We made mistakes. Then we were asked to time ourselves. The groups wrote their times on the board – 12 seconds, 14 seconds, 17 seconds, 14 seconds. I asked my group’s timer how we did. 7 seconds. My brow furrowed in confusion. That didn’t seem correct. I watched in slow motion as the time was written on the white board.

An eruption. Disbelief and confusion by the other groups’ members at our group’s unbelievable time. At least, this is what I assumed was being said, because no discrete words were discernable. It was just one long shout held up like a crowd-surfer by every camper in the room. I turned in one complete circle to take it in before I could form a thought. And it continued. Campers running from one side of the room to the other, pulling banners of words, decorating the room with sound. After five minutes, I became a bit apprehensive. What I presumed to be friendly razzing could be construed as fighting without fists. I turned to Aeriel.

“Is everything okay?”

“Oh yeah, they’re not mad. This is normal.”

I had to smile at that. The screaming, the shouting, things that would normally appear to me as warning signs for a brewing fight in the US – in Liberia, business as usual between friends in a competition. The amount of emotion was not rooted in anger, at least not genuine anger, but pure excitement. Zest for participation, socializing, being a part of the game and the outcome. Not wanting to lose, of course, but also not wanting to trample on others. It was more about challenging one another – feeling the full interaction.

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This full interaction continued after dinner with a L-SWE-planned event they called Cultural Night. Each attendee explained the significance of her outfit as it related to her heritage, her inspirations, her own thoughts and desires. For many Liberians, her explanation included information about her family’s tribe or from which time period the clothing came and when and where it would be worn. There was also dancing. So much dancing. Traditional African dances, free-style dances. Liberian students and US students. Laughing. Clapping. Exchanging. A brilliant end to a spirited day.

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Yamah dancing at Cultural Night
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Kirsten explains the significance of her outfit at Cultural Night
GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

Monday – SUCCESS Camp 2017

We have arrived in Liberia! Late on Sunday to the Roberts International Airport. Literally late, due to being delayed thrice – once in Amsterdam while looking for a lost passenger and twice waiting for the runway lights at the airport in Liberia to turn back on. Two hours behind schedule and dozens lost in the unreal world of airport-space, zombies strung out on Amsterdam-Schiphol couches, time lost but not passing. Melinda and Aeriel, L-SWE SUCCESS camp alums with five years of experience combined, greeted the UM SWE team outside of the airport. Let’s talk a bit about acronyms: L-SWE is Liberia Society of Women Engineers and SUCCESS is Setting Up Collegiates for Careers in Engineering through Social Support. The history of the partnership between UM SWE and L-SWE is vibrant and weaving, colorful and evolving. For more information, I point you to:, but for now, I’m consumed with the present.

Moses, our driver from the airport and friend of a family member of a L-SWE member, turns the hazards on in his Toyota Highlander. It doesn’t feel like night or day, but only like rain. Rain and rain and rain. A few drops start from the top of the door, hitting my forearm and grounding me in that moment. My head aches from being awake, but I’m locked in step with time, synchronized by the drip on my arm. The radio is on, but I only realize that after we’ve passed through the rain into the dark night. Up to that moment, our Highlander, our only force against that outside world, was filled with a roar, a cheering crowd, an amplifier’s scream, hundreds of rain drops crashing down onto the roof, every so often one fulfilling its mission to land on my arm. The silence is deafening when we cross out of the storm. Welcome to Liberia – rain and calm, separated by the finest line.

When I wake up, it takes me a while to remember where I am. I have the faintest memory of arriving to Fendell Campus on the University of Liberia the night before, well past midnight. We listened to a call-in radio show, Liberians seeking advice on love, after the deafening rainfall. We raced through the night, glimpses of outdoor parties still full of dancing Liberians, deserted roadside stands, billboards, the occasional street light. Every now and then just a breath of the air – damp with the past, heavy with the future. It is rainy season in August, so each reprieve from the rain feels especially sweet. We tour Fendell campus with just a slight drizzle in the air. It barely falls, hanging in the air like a cobweb. The graduate students from UM are staying in apartments reserved for visiting scholars and professors, and the undergraduate students from UM, along with L-SWE camp participants, are staying in dormitories. We see the UL clock tower stark against the grey sky, and I can’t help but briefly be pulled back to Michigan’s Central Campus clock tower. Many UL students are still milling about campus, finishing out their final days of exams. We eat lunch in the UL cafeteria, and the rain picks up. Low-lying areas swell with the water. The bottoms of T-shirts, strung across a shallow valley this morning to dry, now hang several inches into a pool that has formed. I see a Liberian woman wade through the knee-deep water to collect them.

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UL clock tower

Later in the evening, the L-SWE campers arrive at Fendell, and I walk over to the dorms with Aeriel to meet some of them. I can’t help but feel drawn in by their overflowing warmth. They laugh. They shout. There is such an excitement, like the eve of a big holiday. Old friends cry out down the hallway to one another. I can hardly keep up, forgetting names as soon as I’ve heard them. It is overwhelming in many ways, but in some ways it feels deeply wonderful. I feel terrifically off balance, like I’ve walked into someone else’s family reunion, only to be welcomed with profound kindness. And it’s only Monday.

Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: Emine Sumeyra Turali Emre

Imagine: a super tiny robot equipped with the technology to enter your body and figure out exactly what is wrong, and then even deliver a drug/DNA straight to where it is needed. This is what Sumeyra daydreamed about as a teenager, making sketches in her notebooks of nano-robots as medical heroes. Then one day in her sophomore year at Istanbul University, she attended a seminar that changed everything. “They were talking about nanoparticles and nano-robots, and they showed the same images that I had been drawing myself! I thought, there it is! That’s what I want to do.

Armed with the information she needed to turn her dreams into reality, Sumeyra immersed herself in nanotechnology. She read countless papers, talked to her professors in Yeditepe University, and eventually reached out to her current PI, Professor Kotov. He invited her to travel from her home in Turkey to his lab here at the University of Michigan to work with him for 3 months. “I remember every detail like it was yesterday, I had such a great time here.” Sumeyra’s eyes light up when she talks about her work, and her smile is contagious.

Her hard work and passion paid off as she was awarded the prestigious Turkish Ministry of Education Scholarship, allowing her to dive into her graduate studies at the University of Michigan. As luck would have it, her husband received the same scholarship. Together they courageously dedicated themselves to rigorous research training in a new country and a different language. “Being in another country and not speaking your own language is hard, especially being far away from your family. I’m glad I came here with my husband, I cannot imagine if I came here alone.


Now Sumeyra has completed both her Master’s degree and her qualifying exam, and is the proud mother of two-year-old Talha. Every day she expertly structures her time so that she can efficiently complete her experiments in time to pick him up from daycare, just 6 minutes away from her lab. Talha loves animals, especially feeding the squirrels. “I taught him sign language so that he could communicate with us from 9 months old,” Sumeyra smiles, tapping her knuckles together in the sign for squirrel—one of her son’s favorite signs. “It made him calmer, because he’s able to tell us what he wants.” In her spare time when she’s not playing with her son, Sumeyra enjoys swimming, pilates, being in nature, or relaxing her mind with a good book. She especially loves reading about child development, picking up tricks on encouraging healthy eating habits, potty training techniques, and child psychology.

I’m not sure how she finds the time, but Sumeyra is an active member of the University of Michigan community. Last year she served as an Outreach Co-Chair for the Graduate Rackham International (GRIN) student organization, where she helped organize events such as an outing to the Trampoline Park, the Graduate Student Appreciation Week with Rackham Student Government, and movie nights. This year she is looking forward to serving as GRIN’s Professional Development Co-Chair. She is also an active member of Society for Biomaterials (SFB) Univeristy of Michigan Student Chapter and is currently helping to organize SFB Day, which will be hosted here at UM next fall. Last fall she served as the Engineering in Biological Systems Session Chair for the UM Engineering Graduate Symposium and earned 1st place for her research poster in the Tissue, Cellular, and Biomolecular Engineering Session. She is also an active member of GradSWE, and has especially enjoyed the Female Faculty Mixers, where she picked up useful tips on writing amidst a busy schedule. As Sumeyra adeptly manages her work-life balancing act, she is grateful for her PI’s kindness and understanding, and most of all for the loving support of her family, whom she Skypes with every night over dinner.

Once she and her husband complete their doctoral studies, they will return to Turkey to be professors as part of their scholarship contract. She will be faculty at Bursa Technical University, in a town outside of Istanbul that she describes as somewhat like Ann Arbor. There, Sumeyra hopes to establish collaborations between Turkey and the United States to continue her work in nanotechnology. As the medical field advances and gene therapy inches ever closer, Sumeyra’s work may well play an integral part in effective gene therapy delivery. One thing is clear: Sumeyra’s relentless passion is an inspiration, and we are proud to have her as an outstanding member of the GradSWE community.

When you think of our GradSWE community, who comes to mind? Nominate them for the GradSWE Member Spotlight here!

Written by Olivia Palmer; May 2017

Recap of the Year: 2016 – 2017

Thank you GradSWE members for all your support over the past year! We have had a tremendously successful year and are glad you were apart of it. Over the past year GradSWE has hosted over 44 events and have had over 300 members attend at least one of these events! A big shout out to our sponsors — the Office of Graduate Education, the Office of Student Affairs, and the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Office — without your support all of this wouldn’t have been possible!

Welcome Dinner & End of the Year Party

We started off the year strong with our annual Welcome Dinner. This event has been growing every year, and this year we had a record of over 100 attendees! With primarily first year students in attendance, the Co-Directors gave an overview of GradSWE while everyone enjoyed a meal from Noodles and Company. The year ended with a painting party with painting instruction provided by Paint & Pour. Forty GradSWE members tried their hands at painting a Michigan themed masterpiece. And during breaks we helped ourselves to a delicious spread of fruit, charcuterie, cheese, and cookies. It was a great end to the academic year.


Professional Development

Gender equality in the workplace was a big focus of professional development this year. Therefore, in addition to our traditional finance, computer/writing skills, and public speaking workshops, we collaborated with the Center for Entrepreneurship on a “Real Talk: Gender Equality in the Workplace” series. Our goal was to engage graduate students in conversations on real and difficult issues that many of us are currently facing or may face in future careers, and arm students with strategies to promote a more supportive work environment. Additionally, we partnered with the Office of Conflict Resolution to develop a monthly support group for graduate students as a safe space to discuss conflict, and learn effective strategies for resolving conflict.

Our Public Speaking Series received great response from the student community. The first talk ‘The secrets to giving a good scientific talk’ was given in the department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering by Dr. Aaron Ridley and Dr. Mike Liemohn. This talk focused on the ways one can improve a scientific talk visually as well as the orally. The second talk ‘How to give the Talk of a Lifetime’ by Dr. Anne Curzan, Associate Dean for Humanities, a TED speaker and influencer also received tremendous response. At the end of the year, we also collaborated with GRIN, WISE, MiLEAD in a Dining Etiquette Workshop, ‘The Art of Business Dining’ by Mr. Keith Soster, Director of Student Engagement for Michigan Dining.


This year the Networking co-officers organized a series of three lunches for female faculty members to mentor graduate students at small table discussions. The lunches were held in the summer, fall, and winter, and 50-80 students and professors attended each lunch. Tables were assigned topics relevant to graduate students such as publishing, mentoring, time management, finding postdocs etc. The professors at these tables mentored students about their specific table topic. Attendees said that they enjoyed interacting with women from fields other than their own, and that they liked meeting students and faculty in a friendly environment. This new style of luncheon was a success and we look forward to continue engaging with faculty members next year.



pic03Last summer, we enjoyed kayaking down the Huron River, as well as a 3rd of July picnic at Fuller Park. In the fall, we found our way through a corn maze, and picked apples at Wasem’s Orchard. Back on campus, we also celebrated fall with two social hours with donuts and apple cider. To end the fall semester, we had a holiday party, where we made wreaths, hot cocoa mix, and gingerbread houses. During the winter, we enjoyed an afternoon of skating at Buhr park. We ended the semester with a painting party, and during finals week we destressed during a yoga + yogurt event with undergrad SWE.


Graduate Student Career Fair Reception

In the fall semester, GradSWE held a reception for company representatives and masters and PhD students to informally network the night prior to the SWE/TBP Career Fair. There were 17 companies represented and over 300 students in attendance. The reception provided a more relaxed atmosphere for students and corporate representatives to interact and network without resumes prior to the start of the career fair.

Region H Conference

On March 10-12, our SWE section hosted the Region H Conference. GradSWE members both attended the conference and planned some of the sessions. Grad student specific sessions included “Grad School Funding Workshop,” “ Finding a Research Position as a Student,”  and “Life as an Academic: the 5 W’s”. We were also involved in “Grad School Admissions Workshop,” “Which is Right for Me? Grad School or Industry?” and “Grad Student Panel”. GradSWE also partially sponsored 12 graduate students to attend the conference. Great job everyone!


Photo Credit: Amy Blatt / Theresa Chick

Liberia SWE

In August 2016, four GradSWE students and five undergraduate SWE members traveled to Liberia and facilitated a 2 week residential leadership camp for undergraduate Liberian female students studying engineering from 3 Liberian universities. The camp focused on professional, academic, and student organization development. The style of the camp was primarily workshops, lectures, and hands-on engineering activities, developed and led by GradSWE members. The camp ended with a successful networking dinner that drew in over 70 attendees – both LSWE students and local engineers and educators. GradSWE members served as facilitators and leaders of the camp and developed the entire curriculum of the camp. UM SWE offered guidance and support in establishing LSWE as an official organization at the Liberian universities and are continuing working towards registering LSWE as an official SWE affiliate. Six LSWE students visited Ann Arbor in the fall hosted by UM SWE members and attended the society level SWE conference hosted in Philadelphia in October, 2016.


GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

L-SWE SUCCESS 2016: Stories from the Field

As our first week draws to a close, we are busy writing up the exciting things we did to share with all of you. In the meantime until we get that done, we wanted to share a few other blog posts.

We started a secondary blog to capture a few of the fine details of the L-SWE SUCCESS camp. Here are our first two posts:

We hope you enjoy them and will update more soon.

GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

L-SWE SUCCESS 2016: Early Team Report

Greetings from Liberia!

The U-M early team arrived in Liberia late on Wednesday, 10 August 2016. GarnersvilleWe are staying near Barnersville junction with one of the L-SWE students. Her family has been super nice these past few days.

Our first full day in Liberia was spent signing people up for the 2016 L-SWE SUCCESS camp. We visited the University of Liberia – Fendall Campus and watched the Engineering Concept Design Competition organized by GEMCESA (Geology, Electrical, Mining, and Civil Engineering Student Association at the University of Liberia) and sponsored by ExxonMobil and E-HELD (Excellence through Higher Education for Liberian Development). It was quite interesting to see the innovative ideas that the four Liberian project teams imagined. Everything from a car made entirely of Liberian-sourced parts to a set of waterways to improve transit to the Liberian interior.

We also visited the site of the 2016 camp, Rick’s Institute. It is a nice facility and we will share more photos during the camp.

The second day in Liberia was a purchasing day. We bought all sorts of supplies for camp. We spent American and Liberian money. Liberian dollars are called Liberty. One USD is anywhere from 80 to 100 LD depending on the exchange rate.

You can buy lots of things in Liberia in the capital that you would find in the States. They have everything from small roadside markets to bigger indoor grocery stores. We even visited a small store that was like a Liberian Costco – they only sold things by the case/carton/box.

On the third day (Saturday, 13 August 2016), hosted a pre-departure meeting at the E-HELD office on Old Road across from the Nigerian Embassy. We discussed expectations for the camp and answered questions.

Today (Sunday, 14 August 2016), the rest of the U-M team arrives. You will hear from them during the next two weeks. We cannot wait to share all of the great things that will be happening at the camp. The women engineers in Liberia are truly incredible. I, for one, cannot wait to meet more of them!


GradSWE at UM: A Year in Review

Contributor: Meghan Richey

The year is coming to a close here at U of M! We wanted to take the time to look back at some of the great moments we’ve had in GradSWE over the school year, starting with last summer.


  1. Kayaking down the Huron River: What’s the best activity on a hot summer day in Ann Arbor? Grab your swimsuits and head down to Argo Park for a two-hour kayaking excursion down the river! A group of GradSWE members took advantage of a beautiful day in July for some great group bonding, followed by a picnic lunch.
  2. Blueberry Picking: Summer in Michigan is a great time for blueberry picking! Late August saw many of our members heading out to a farm to pick (and eat!) some of the best berries Michigan has to offer.
  3. National SWE Conference in Nashville, TN: Nine of our members attended WE15, where they were able to connect with other GradSWE chapters, learn about the role of women engineers in academia and the workplace, and attend a great career fair! They also took the time to check out the local sites in Nashville and on the road trip down, including Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
  4. Holiday Party: Our annual holiday party was very well-attended! We built gingerbread houses, listened to classic holiday tunes, and said goodbye to our graduating members.
  5. Cross-Country Skiing: In January, skiers of all skill levels hit the “slopes” (aka the Huron Hills Golf Course) to learn to cross-country ski! After a quick lesson, we set off on the trails through the golf courses, which included some small hills and beautiful scenery. We finished up the day with a picnic lunch in the ski lodge.
  6. Entrepreneurship Series: This semester, GradSWE was lucky to partner with the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship to hold workshops covering a wide range of topics- everything from building your own brand to fighting gender stereotypes in the workplace. The attendees were extremely impressed with the speakers and came away with valuable tips and tools to becoming more successful in her chosen field.
  7. Painting Party: For our February general body meeting, we had a do-it-yourself painting class! Members followed step-by-step instructions to create a garden scene. Every painting was unique, but all were beautiful!
  8. Female Faculty Mixers: These events were held many times throughout the year. Female faculty members joined GradSWE members for lunch to talk about careers in academia and their experiences in industry. These lunches were valuable for all attendees, and we loved hearing the personal stories of female professors!

GradSWE at U of M has had a great past year, and we’re looking forward to an even better summer! If you’re in the area, check out events we’ll be holding to come make new friends, reconnect with old friends, and have a great time with a great group of people! Thanks to everyone that helped make this year a wonderful experience, and have a great summer!


Applying Entrepreneurship Skills in Academia and Industry

Contributor: Maggie Reuter

When I first heard about the Center for Entrepreneurship series on Empowering Women Through Entrepreneurship, I assumed it didn’t really fit into my career path. I’m interested in becoming a professor, not heading to Silicon Valley to create a new app. But I decided to go some of the seminars when a mentor told me becoming a professor is like having your own mini startup. So I went and have found the seminars invaluable and inspiring. The speakers have helped me think about all kinds of skills we don’t often have a chance to get formal training in like navigating work relationships, building confidence in my abilities, and even organizing a timeline for my dissertation.

Over the past two weeks there have been two seminars: Building Your Personal Brand and Becoming an Effective Project Manager; led by Rachele Downs, Vice President Entrepreneurial Strategies at Inforum & Inforum Center for Leadership, and Susan Koenig, App Relations Manager at AdAdapted.

Rachele’s main points can be summed up with one of the first quotes of the seminar “own your energy and be memorable.” The key ideas about building your personal brand, according to Rachele, are confidence and preparation. Confidence in who you are, what you want to say, and establishing your network. Preparation in meetings, elevator pitches, the persona you want to present, and maintaining your social media presence. One idea I took away from Rachele’s talk was always have prepared elevator pitches that you can employ at any time 30 sec, 3 min, 10 min, or 30 min. You never know where you can find a connection or, in my case, a new research collaborator.

Susan’s approach to the seminar was more hands on, but just as helpful for professional development. We brainstormed in small groups about how to manage the design of a rocket car, while dealing with a theoretical team member who didn’t respect women. Susan then had suggestions about four different project management methods: Waterfall, Critical Path, Kanban, and Scrum. Her advice was inspire a sense of ownership in your team members, empower the people working for you while also teaching them, and make the scope and details of a project transparent so people are connected to the project as a whole. Two resources that I’ve started using since the workshop are Trello and The Girls Guide to Project Management.
I’m looking forward to the next seminar, Promoting and Selling Your Ideas to Non Technical People, and finding new and valuable entrepreneurial skills. I’ve always thought of these concepts being applied in industry, but I plan to use these skills to further my career in academia, too. In the future, I won’t be so quick to dismiss the workshops that teach us how to manage people, money, and our career.