Q&A With Gwyneth Erhardt
Gwyneth Erhardt is a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Guelph. She’s been actively involved in many different extracurricular activities since beginning her degree. Gwyneth has been affiliated with the Guelph Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Chapter since her first year, participating in events and outreach activities, and has even been promoted to Co-President of the club.
The Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Club promotes community outreach, professional development, and hands-on skills workshops in the STEM fields for students at U of G. The events run by WiSE not only provide students with the opportunity to learn valuable skills for their careers, but also engage the community in STEM activities.
We spoke to Gwyneth about her academic experiences, her role with WiSE, and her next steps.
You were the Director of Outreach for the Guelph Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) club for some time before moving up to the position of Co-President – congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit more about how your experience with WiSE has been?
My first year at Guelph I joined WiSE as a general member that attended events to get to know others with similar interests. In my second year I knew I enjoyed being a part of WiSE and I wanted to have a larger role in the club. I applied for the Director of Outreach position as I had experience attending events for girls interested in STEM when I was younger, and I wanted to be able to fill that role for young girls now that I’m at U of G.
I decided to take on the role of Co-President because I wanted to keep growing the club so more students could feel the same sense of community that I feel in WiSE. Since I joined WiSE in first year, the executive team has doubled, and the number of general members has grown exponentially. One of the annual outreach events WiSE organizes has tripled the number of participants and volunteers this year compared to three years ago. Every year I’ve had more and more fun being a part of WiSE and I’m glad I took the initial step in first year and joined a club. I suggest any first-year student join a club on campus of some sort to meet new people.
What made you decide to become involved with WiSE?
One thing that drew me to WiSE is that general members can be as involved as they want, but the club still offers executive positions for students that want to put in more time than a general member. Another thing that drew me to WiSE is that there is a professional development side of the club for us students to network, and an outreach side in that WiSE run events for young girls to get them interested in STEM. When joining WiSE, I saw an opportunity for me to become a role model for younger girls to follow what they are interested in and get involved in engineering.
How do your studies in engineering tie into your volunteer and co-op experiences?
One thing from my studies that carries over to my experience with WiSE and work experiences is how to work in groups, especially multidisciplinary groups. Since my first-ever design course, we have been encouraged to work in diverse groups.
With WiSE, since we support students in both engineering and science programs, we try to balance our executive team between various programs. This ensures that we run events that are engaging for students in a wide range of programs. In my professional and work experiences it became very clear that knowing how to work as an effective team is necessary when problem solving to come up with a variety of solutions.
Has your network and community at the University been helpful to you throughout your experiences participating in academics, volunteering, and co-op?
Through my time with WiSE, I have gotten to know so many more students from various science and engineering programs. Through those connections I have formed design groups that have done well and founded long term friendships that will continue after I graduate; Then, through my experience with WiSE I’ve gotten to know some staff and faculty closely. I utilized this when I needed a reference for a summer job that over 200 other mechanical engineering students applied for. I ended up getting that job thanks to my references from WiSE.
Are your career goals related to your previous co-op experiences?
I got into engineering because of my experience building and programming robots in high school, so it would be my dream job to work in robotics and programming. Some of my previous co-op/summer positions have been closely related to that field but not all of them. No matter the position there is always something to learn; even if it is learning something that you don’t picture yourself doing after graduation. My favourite job was this summer, doing mechanical design for a company that creates custom robotic and automation solutions for manufacturing companies.
What’s next for you?
I have two semesters left including this fall semester where I’m taking a few courses and continuing to work part-time with the company I was working for this summer. I’m looking forward to graduating in the spring and being able to work full time for a robotics or automation company.