As Engineering Week 2018 is about to kick off and I'm embarking on this new mission to help women in STEM careers, I'm reflecting on my own experience quite a bit. I've spent the last several years reading stories of women engineers who left because of their work environments or young women who were discouraged as they pursued engineering degrees like this girl whose college experience reminded me of my own.
Wouldn't it be great if all the people who left engineering used a different hashtag this year? #IamNOTanEngineer! Let's work together to show school teachers, college professors, parents, siblings and pretty much everybody in the whole wide world their words matter. With exposure, support and encouragement more women will choose Engineering. We will have more children interested in Engineering and companies can stop worrying about dying interest in fields where they need skilled employees of all genders and nations of origin. Here's my story, please share yours too.
My love for math and science started at a really early age. I was in advanced math classes as early as I can recall, read the coding lessons in the back of the 321 Contact magazine to create games on my Commodore 64, programmed in LOGO on my Apple II at school, helped dad fix small engines and build things, won a Physics competition for the most weight held by a bridge made of popsicle sticks. Needless to say, I have an engineering mindset, however, #IamNOTanEngineer. Recently, I reflected back on my career choices and realized the reason I'm not an engineer dates back to my days in college. #IamNOTanEngineer and here's why.
It's 1997, I'm attending college in Minnesota. In the spring, I had inspiring teachers for Biology and Geography. Through their passion and enthusiastic teaching style, I determined Environmental Engineering was a path I wanted to pursue. I envisioned a future carrying a field notes book in one hand and map in the other. The following fall semester I was taking some crazy level of Calc, Chem and a couple other general courses when I found out I was pregnant. I decided to discuss the safety of the chemicals we are using in the lab with my Chemistry teacher, Mr. Barks. Here is what he said:
"I can't guarantee the safety of your unborn child in the lab, the ventilation isn't great you need to drop the class."
"Ugh, this allllllllways happens, it's too bad you're good at this."
"Are you sure you'll want to take the class after the baby is born, you know science and math courses demand a lot of your time."
I didn't think much of his response at the time. I thought changing course was best for me and my family. Ultimately, I landed in a career I absolutely love where I get to help others find their dream jobs. I wonder, what if he chose to say, "Don't worry you can do this!" or "How can I support you?" Is it possible would have been a different outcome for me?
Did you want to be an Engineer, but changed course? Share your story in the comments below or join me on twitter using #IamNOTanEngineer and see if we can show the world how many engineers the world is missing because someone watered seeds of doubt. Let's all make it a point to encourage our youth to explore next week and beyond.
Stay tuned next week for STEM youth giveaways!