On July 1, USC Viterbi alumna Rachel Morford officially took office as president of the Society of Women Engineers, or SWE. SWE is a global organization with the goal of empowering women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders.
As president, Morford will serve a one-year term, during which she will be responsible for communicating and engaging with over 41,000 SWE members from across the globe. Other duties include leading Board of Directors’ meetings, participating on SWE committees, speaking at conferences, hosting the SWE Diverse Podcast series, and setting operational priorities for the year.
“SWE is an amazing community of people who support a critical mission — getting more women to study and pursue careers in engineering,” said Morford, who graduated from USC Viterbi with BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering in 2007. “I am humbled and honored to be able to serve as president. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the position, but a lot of amazing opportunities that I’m really looking forward to as well.”
The world’s largest advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology, SWE supports women engineers in all stages of their education and career through training and outreach programs, scholarships, mentoring, networking opportunities, and more. The organization has over 100 professional member sections and over 300 collegiate member sections, including one at USC Viterbi.
As president, Morford will spearhead the organization’s response to the changing conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also plans to place emphasis on supporting initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I passionately believe that we need more people going into engineering, science, and math, so we can continue the amazing innovation and progress that improve the lives of everyone on the planet,” Morford said. “When SWE started, women were an entirely untapped source of potential engineers – and although we’ve made progress, women and diverse populations are still significantly less represented in the number of engineering degrees granted and engineering jobs held.”
Julia Scheibmeir, a USC Viterbi director of advancement who knows Morford through her work in alumni engagement, said SWE chose the right person to lead the organization. “Rachel is a truly inspirational leader with a strong motivation to serve, lead, learn from, and support other women,” she said. “I’m confident that Rachel will use her platform as SWE president to empower women engineers on a large scale, and that her legacy will have a lasting impact on the organization.”
SWE CEO Karen Horting says she is looking forward to working with Morford to advance the organization’s mission. “Rachel is a great leader because she is very authentic. She brings her whole self to the role. She is not afraid to address the difficult questions with radical candor. She doesn’t run from conflict but embraces the opportunity to hear different voices to find the best solution to the problem or challenge at hand.”
History of Commitment
Morford has been an active member and contributor to SWE for more than a decade. Over the course of her involvement, she has served in a number of executive positions. They include the SWE chair of the Collegiate Leadership Coaching Committee; the SWE Los Angeles section president and vice president; a SWE governor, the SWE deputy director of regions, and finally as a director to the global SWE Board of Directors.
Morford’s journey with SWE began during her time at USC. She was first exposed to the organization when she stayed with a USC SWE member during a campus visit as a high school senior. “She was an amazing inspiration,” Morford said. “She was successful in the university’s engineering program and a well-rounded leader.”
Morford ended up joining USC SWE as a freshman and remained involved in the organization for all four of her years at USC Viterbi. “So many of the women I met on campus were amazing and encouraged me to excel throughout my engineering studies. As a result, they became some of my closest friends while I was a student on campus,” Morford said.
As a sophomore, Morford attended the annual SWE conference in Milwaukee. “I had the opportunity to see the bigger organization — several thousand women who were working as engineers or studying to become engineers, which was incredible.”
In addition to involvement with SWE, Morford was also an active participant in a variety of organizations in the USC community. Morford served as chair of the USC IEEE student branch and participated in Viterbi Student Ambassadors, the Engineering Student Research program, the USC Swim Team, USC Helenes, and more.
After graduating from USC Viterbi in 2007, Morford joined The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center committed to space-related science and engineering. There, she’s worked on supporting launches of critical national security satellite systems, developing international cooperative agreements for military satellite communications systems, and contributing to the production and launch of the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellites.
In January 2020, Morford was promoted to her current role of principal director at the Aerospace Corporation. Her responsibilities include leading teams that support the Space Force across multiple mission areas, including missile warning and weather.
“It’s a fast-paced environment with a lot of opportunities,” Morford said. “I really enjoy working with the larger teams across the company to support the government in this area.”
Morford will continue to work at the Aerospace Corporation throughout her term as SWE president.
Morford credits her USC Viterbi education for contributing to her success in her career. In the classroom and in all of her extracurricular activities, Morford said she learned to value breadth and variety in her learning. “My time at USC Viterbi instilled a desire to learn about as many areas as possible, which I think is important to having an impact as a member of the world’s community,” Morford said. “I think that philosophy has prepared me well for the role of SWE President and has contributed to my success professionally.”
Vision for the Future
As president, Morford will direct SWE’s response to challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more than a year, operations have been completely virtual, but the organization hopes soon to transition into in-person events. Morford will be responsible for adapting to changing pandemic conditions and working to transition to a hybrid model for events to accommodate the needs of sections worldwide.
“Many of the companies our members work at are working through the same questions and planning,” Morford said. “It’s an opportunity for SWE to step into the space as a thought leader for how to support women in engineering in the new normal.”
Morford said she also wants to continue to focus on the organization’s commitment to efforts involving diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We heard concerns and observations from members during town halls last July about their experiences as minorities in engineering and in SWE, and we spent a year working with our special directors to begin to make changes in our awards and leadership selection processes,” Morford said. “It’s an ongoing process, though, and as we learn, we need to do better and implement changes that will make our organization and profession more welcoming to individuals who identify as a part of under-represented communities.”
As president, Morford is excited to pay forward all the advice and engineering she’s received since starting to study engineering, “I hope that I’ll continue to have interesting roles at work, that I continue to learn and grow in all areas of my life, and that I’ll make a difference.”
Morford is married to another Viterbi alum, Matthew Boatman, B.S. ’07, and the couple are expecting their first child this fall.