In hindsight, I realize that I have been extremely lucky to have my mom as a role model. She is a Chemical Engineer with an MBA and a steady job that she’s great at! She’s also an amazing mother and my best friend. Growing up, I never had any worries or doubts about the fact that I loved math. One of my first memories of school was a little booklet that we had to fill out counting by 1’s to 100. I can remember my disdain as I filled out the entire booklet while the teacher was talking and asked for a more challenging assignment. I was a brat, haha!
In high school, I had a female mentor who coached me through 4 years of high school and taught me everything I know about public speaking, experimental design, and dressing business casual (although I think the skirt below is a liiiitle short by my standards). She inspired my love of science, research, and helped me win 4th place internationally in microbiology, which I originally thought I wanted to major in. She’s the one who convinced me to pursue Astronautical Engineering, even though its not considered the most practical major, because I love it!
She also helped me gain alot of my self-confidence, which is absolutely critical as a female engineer. Even if I’m the only woman in a group of engineers, I don’t feel self-conscious about it, because I know I can do my job, usually better than people assume. Sometimes I ask the wrong question and make mistakes, but I don’t let it affect my faith in my abilities.
This is coming across a little conceded, so let me backtrack. I knew in high school and coming into college that while I’m one smart cookie, there are some people that are absolutely brilliant. In engineering, true success comes from working with other people and forming a team that can work effectively. With the people I’ve had the privilege of working with in Viterbi, I’ve been able to accomplish some great things that I could never have done on my own. The most notable group is the Society of Women Engineers!!! I was an officer my freshman and have kept gaining leadership and experience ever since. I’ve made some terrific friends through SWE with women that are fun, inspiring, gorgeous, and intelligent! If people could sit in on our meetings, they would see how wrong the image of a stereotypical engineer is! (I actually just came from a meeting where we discussed our biggest decisions right now and drew a pig to discover our personality!)
Another part of SWE that is really rewarding is community service. I almost can’t believe I’m saying this because I don’t really love community service, and I don’t really love children, but I LOVE that moment when I’m talking about my dream job to a group of little girls and I can see their faces calculating, weighing the benefits of engineering to a career as a gymnast or singer (which is what most of them say they want to be when they grow up). After an event, half of them say “ENGINEER”, and they’re probably little liars, but it makes me feel like maybe I made a difference.
I’m getting emotional, because I’m a huge nerd about engineering. I love the problems and the sharpness and the quality to the work I do everyday. I can honestly say that my gender has absolutely nothing to do with my quality as an engineer: because it’s objective, like the best things in life. Yes, my experience has probably been different than that of men, and I’ve been told before that I only got the job because I’m a woman, that professors talk to me more because I’m pretty, that I’m only disagreeing with someone’s answer because I’m emotional, and “You don’t look like an engineer!” more times than I can say. These things happen, and they’re not things that I get offended about anymore. Honestly, when I see a cute guy walking on campus in a nice suit, I think “business major”. We all deal with stereotypes and judgmental attitudes. But I know that I’m an engineer. I’ve been given an opportunity, a challenge, a home, and a future here at Viterbi, and I intend to make the most of it!
That was a little passionate, and I’m laughing at myself too, but it’s how I feel. You have to stick to what you love, make the right decision for you, and take every opportunity that comes along.