It shouldn’t make a difference, right, in theory? Honestly, in my day to day life, I think very little about the fact that I’m female and studying engineering. However, the truth is that we are still a significant minority in engineering schools and even more in the industry. The biggest impact of this is that we, female engineers, lack role models. We don’t have someone to look to and say, “I could do what she did.” We have to pretty much make our own path.
In my blog last year, I talked about how I got interested in engineering from my mom, how I picked Astronautical Engineering, what it’s like being in the Society of Women Engineers and how that’s helped me, and why I think it’s important to reach out to young women and share engineering with them.
How did I know engineering was for me? I had several interests: Musical theater, vocal performance, veterinary school, and my favorite, microbiology. Add in there my early obsession with space and my belief (still) that eventually humans will need the technology to be extraterrestrial to survive as a species. Hopefully not for a while, but there it is.
But back to my point. Somehow, I ended up at USC as a freshman in Astronautical Engineering. Did I know any other women at Viterbi? No. Did I have anyone to ask what it would be like? Not really. Did I know a woman in industry that had a job I would want to do? No.
Why was that important?
Because when I experienced doubt and uncertainty (as all of us do in such a difficult field at some point) about whether I could make it, whether there was an opportunity out there that I would get, who did I have to ask? to confide in? to learn from?
How could I know what the environment was like at Viterbi or at a company I wanted to work for wIthout talking to someone or going there myself? I really couldn’t. In fact, after my freshman year I worked at a company where I was the only female intern, and it was often extremely frustrating for me. Because my peers didn’t know how to treat me, and I didn’t know how to act to get them to ignore my gender.
The reason we’re doing this blog and video series is so you can know, before you ever step foot onto our campus, exactly what it’s like to be a woman here at USC.
Here’s my 2 cents on what it’s like: In my classes, I hardly even notice the ratio of women/men and there’s no difference in the way we are treated. Outside the classroom I am part of a large and strong female network that I find extremely supportive. I participate in this network because they are my friends and because there are questions I have and advice I have to give that are exchanged very easily in that group.