article Fall 2023

Queer and Trans Engineers: Student Organization Spotlight

QTE is an identity-based student organization that provides a sense of community for LGBTQIA+ students enrolled in the College of Engineering.

All UW-Madison students deserve to feel a place of belonging. Four identity-based engineering student organizations on the UW-Madison campus aim to make this a reality. This includes the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Queer and Trans Engineers (QTE). Given the current politically turbulent environment, these identity-based organizations like QTE provide students with an essential sense of community.

Bella Haochen speaks about their experience in Queer and Trans Engineers. Photography by Annie Krillenberger

Over 20 members strong, QTE receives funding from the Gender & Sexuality Campus Center (GSCC). This semester, they hosted various events including a de-stress night, a movie night, and a queer history month trivia night. These events serve as an opportunity to build a community amongst LGBTQIA+ engineering students.  

Bella Hacohen, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, recently stepped into the role of financial chair for QTE. While Bella only recently joined QTE this year, she saw that the club needed to maintain a minimum number of officers and took the opportunity to step into a leadership position.

“I want the club to keep going, so I put my name in,” she reasoned. “Now that I am out and also more involved in the club, I definitely want to take more interest and take more charge in the club’s function.” 

Hacohen has grown in the role of financial chair and continues to do so with increased involvement from participating in club leadership. 

Across many STEM fields, historic trends leave diversity of identities limited. “It’s not a huge community of queer people in engineering,” Hacohen explains. At times this may lead minority students to not see people similar to themselves in their classes or everyday encounters, leading to feelings of a lack of belonging and worth. 

This makes it critical for identity-based organizations of engineering students to exist and thrive within the College of Engineering. “I want this club to be around for the next me,” Hacohen says, emphasizing her choice to strengthen the club by stepping into a leadership position.

“I want this club to be around for the next me.”

Bella Haochen

Anyone who joins the College of Engineering should be afforded a community where they are accepted. QTE provides that to current and future students. The value of being surrounded by others who share similar identities within the LGBTQIA+ as engineers cannot be understated.

Earning an engineering degree can be extremely difficult at times, a feeling that can be exacerbated by additional feelings of isolation or not belonging. Hacohen adds that it is “nice to be around people who have this shared identity. But especially the other engineers who know the grind and the struggle.”

Study nights hosted by QTE provide classmates with this opportunity for collaborative work. “Engineering is a team sport. Wherever you can find other players, you should always try to put yourself out there,” explains Hacohen. By increasing the resources for solidarity, QTE strives to make the College of Engineering more welcoming to students of all backgrounds.

QTE club members participating in queer trivia night. Photography by Annie Krillenberger

When asked what she would tell new engineering students who fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, Hacohen smiles, “putting yourself out there is the number one thing. It might not happen immediately, but the more you do, the more you can do.” 

Having a supportive community goes a long way when facing challenges. This spans academic challenges arising from pursuing an engineering degree to the difficulties of finding friends with similar experiences in a large academic program. Identity-based organizations like QTE help make these challenges easier for students in minority groups at UW-Madison, helping them to find their community and feel included.

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