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Nels Swenson BA’98, MBA’99 advocates for others and promotes inclusion in engineering

by Sophie Cipolla,

Nels Swenson BA’98, MBA’99 has made advocating for others a theme in his career. Swenson recently received the prestigious Rodney D. Chipp Award from The Society of Women Engineers, recognizing his decades of mentoring women over the course of their professional journeys.

Swenson said he was encouraged to apply for the award by one of his mentees. It was an arduous application process, with a long essay and a series of questionnaires in addition to required endorsements from women in the field.

“In my career, I’m head down doing the work, so this level of recognition was a big deal for me,” Swenson said. Promoting women engineers at Intel has been an important ongoing initiative of his. He established a Culture Pioneer Award at Intel to give a platform to those who most exemplify the company’s values, with the goal of giving women visibility on par with their male counterparts.

Swenson credits his Willamette education with the foundational skills he needed to empower others as a leader. Willamette’s 3-2 program allowed him to get his Bachelor’s degree and his MBA in five years, which he credits as a “major jumpstart” to his career.

“I have been lifted up by incredible women throughout my life and in my career, including the women who hired, trained, and continue to manage and guide me,” Swenson shared.

The woman who hired Swenson at Intel, Jane Jackson BA‘93 MBA’95, was a fellow Willamette alum with a shared background as an Resident Advisor in the 3-2 program. It was their connection that set in motion his path at Intel, so “paying it forward” and ensuring all women are given the tools to thrive has been one of Swenson’s driving values. He doesn’t participate in any formal mentoring programs, but his reputation as a resource to others precedes him.

“It’s all word of mouth. I have a number of periodic mentees that I check in with on a regular basis and give career advice,” he said. “I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor women around the world, including women in the Middle East, in addition to the U.S.,” made possible through Intel’s global network.

Swenson encourages current Willamette students looking for their first post-college jobs to “investigate a lot of different industries and alumni. You never know when you will find that fit.”

“I got my job at Intel through Willamette alumni, and I'd encourage graduates who are looking for professional roles to utilize their school network. Atkinson is great for that,” Swenson shared.

Above all, Swenson cherishes his time at Willamette. “As an alum, I encourage other alumni to find their own way to give back — whether it be through time or money or any other resources you can provide to pay it forward.”

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