The “West Virginia Water Crisis” helped inspire Kalie Knecht to pursue nuclear engineering as a way to address real-world challenges. During her senior year of high school, a coal-cleaning chemical spilled into the Elk River upstream from her hometown of Charleston.
“Thousands of people in the region were advised to not use their tap water for two weeks, which is not what modern life should be like in a developed country,” said Knecht. “Because nuclear energy is a great alternative to coal, the spill—along with my fascination for nuclear physics—influenced me to pick nuclear engineering as my major.”
Knecht, now a senior at UT, shares her ongoing fascination with other Engineering Vols as the president of UT’s chapter of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE). She initially joined to make friends and destress from classes, then sought a leadership role after completing her sophomore co-op assignment.
As SWE president, she strives to share the importance of teamwork, leadership, and communication skills that strengthen the career path for fellow students.
“It is always helpful to have someone who has been in your shoes to give you guidance and encourage you,” said Knecht.
SWE’s largest effort in this regard is SWEeties, a program designed to improve the retention of female engineering students through continuous mentoring, networking, and professional development training. They won an award for SWEeties at WE18, the 2018 national SWE conference.
“Incoming engineering students are paired with upperclassmen and they meet up throughout the semester to complete goals,” said Knecht. “This program has a twofold effect of letting mentors and mentees feel like competent professionals, but also allowing them to feel included by finding a friend within SWE.”
Along with SWEeties, the UT SWE section maintains regular study nights and social events for members to network, destress, and stay active with each other. They keep an engineering eye on how to stay effective as their numbers grow.
“I think the key challenge we are facing right now is that our section has gotten too big for us to continue doing the same thing,” said Knecht. “Our section is filled with several hard working and inspiring engineers, so I have faith that after I leave, they will be able to carry on successfully even with these challenges.”
SWE’s ongoing schedule of activities can be found at utk.swe.org.