Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hey Class of 2015 Women Engineers, Sign up for Pre-Orientation!

I was, admittedly, quite nervous before coming to Penn. I mean, engineering in general is quite the undertaking. Engineering at Penn? Scary. Engineering at Penn, as a woman? Terrifying.

The anxiety felt inexplicable—I had always been confident in my math and science abilities—and yet, I think it’s something many women experience. In fact, the women you would least expect are even affected by gender stereotypes and societal pressures. The deeper I get into the field of computer science, the clearer this becomes. My brother, a junior in CS at Rochester Institute of Technology, has never had a girl in a CS class. An even greater shock came to me when I visited the Google offices in New York last week, and went to a talk with Kaleigh Smith, a woman working in Google Maps. Rates of female engineers even at Google can be as low as 1%, and never higher than 15%. Kaleigh’s obviously talented—she’s working at GOOGLE—but even she admitted feeling inferior to the men. She said that she only very recently had a moment of clarity, realizing that she was on par, or even better than her male peers.

So, it appears that intimidation and insecurity is quite common among female engineers. Luckily for us at Penn, Advancing Women in Engineering helps to create a supportive community. Out of the variety of programs they host, the pre-orientation is a favorite. I was unsure when I signed up for the pre-orientation, and ended up being incredibly grateful that I had.

AWE’s pre-orientation allows you to move in a few days early, and basically, learn and have fun. Activities range from informative, such as faculty lectures, and unabashed fun, like trolley rides and center city outings. Overall, the program helped me feel more confident and comfortable in all areas—social and academic. Having an idea of what to expect helped to quell my nerves. The greatest benefit, I think, was that it eased the transition into college. I’m from Cleveland, have never lived away from home, and didn’t know a single person in Philadelphia… so I was uneasy. Add shyness into the mix, and the idea of coming to school and meeting hundreds of new people became incredibly daunting. With AWE, I got to know a smaller group before entering NSO, which can be a little overwhelming. It helped me go into NSO with confidence because I had already made friends with whom I could go to activities with. Even now, I find myself occasionally recognizing a girl from AWE—even one I only met briefly—and can strike up a conversation about it. Pre-orientation gave me a network of peers with whom I have many things in common, and can get support from.

I formed some strong, lasting relationships during pre-orientation. One girl I met the very first day is one my best friends now. I really think that going to the pre-orientation was one of the best choices I made during my college transition. It’s great to know that the female engineers have each others’ backs!

Blog written by Elissa Wolf, freshman. Sign up for pre-orientation at

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