2013 marks the launch of UT's first "Lean In Circle" for women in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science departments.

Based on the tenets of Sheryl Sandberg's New York Times best-selling novel, "Lean In Circles" are virtual groups where women sharing common interests can unwind together. "Lean In" explores female empowerment and encourages women to support each other.

The circle for EEC marks a new partnership between the Lean In organization and the Anita Borg Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in computing.

Denise Koessler, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in computer science, has been attending the Anita Borg Institute's Women in Computing Conferences since her freshman year.

As a Lean In leader and brand ambassador, Koessler was personally contacted to make the already existing Systers group on UT's campus a "Lean In Circle."

"A couple months ago they partnered with Lean In to start these circles where groups of 8-12 virtual circles meet up to support each other," Koessler said. "Women can get together to support other women for a common goal and it can be anything – women in army, women who like surfing, anything. Anita reached out to me and the UT group to be the first circle for the new Lean In and Anita Borg partnership to support women in technology."

Systers is a group of women on campus whose mission is to recruit, mentor and retain women in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. After the Industrial Advisory Board's annual meeting drew attention to gender bias in the EECS department, Systers was born.

With only 5.4 percent of the department being female, Koessler and her fellow female classmates felt compelled to address an unmet need.

"Lean In is how Systers is virtually organized; it is our national affiliation," Koessler said. "We finally had a place to call home ... that we all could go to and kick off our shoes in a totally relaxing, make-up free place to be yourself.

"Not that we wear make-up to class anyways, but it's a different environment when it's so dominated towards the male gender, and this gave us a place to completely relax."

This "Lean In Circle" is already helping women in the EECS field feel more comfortable and proud of their decision to pursue a career in a field that includes so few women.

"I was surprised to see that the number of technical women in UT was so low," said Sadika Amreen, a Systers member and TA for the EECS department. "I, for one, have felt more optimistic and gained more confidence in myself by collaborating with these women and learning from their experiences.

"We hope that the others who are willing to participate will gain much from this circle and hopefully emulate its success in their careers."