Friday, September 28, 2012

You can do it!

“I became an engineer because everyone told me I couldn’t do it.”

My jaw dropped, and my eyes nearly ejected out of my head. 

“What!?” I said, in disbelief. “They told you what?!” 

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting several bright and interesting female undergrads in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program here at Penn. We had all been brought together as a part of the AWE/SWE mentoring program, and as our conversation evolved through the evening, we began discussing why we had all decided to become engineers. That’s when this exchange happened.

A sophomore in CBE, this student told us that in her native country of Mexico, girls are discouraged from pursuing engineering. People suggested to her that, instead, she should try for a more feminine profession– the example she cited with nursing. She also then proceeded to tell us that when that didn’t work, people started telling her she was much too pretty to be an engineer and that her looks were much more fitting for a career in, say, dancing. 

I was in complete and utter shock. I honestly do not know where I would be today if I hadn’t had the wonderful female role models in the math and sciences to tell me that I could and would go far with my technical abilities. I have no doubt in my mind that I owe at least 50% of my success to those women in my life who believed in me and told me so. And considering I started off in the semi-ghettos of Queens, NY and am now beginning my third year in an engineering PhD program here at Penn with an NSF fellowship and two published scientific papers under my belt… let’s just say I owe them a lot

And hearing what I heard last Thursday night, I might even say that I owe them everything.
With that said, I’d like to take this opportunity to say to every female reading this right now, that you can do it. I know how difficult it can be and how intimidating it feels to be one of the only girls in the room (I was one of two girls in my PhD class of about 12 or 13 people), but I also know that success as a female engineer is possible. And let me tell you, it feels prettyyyy awesome to make it through and be able represent. 

So keep your heads high, ladies - don’t let the numbers or any ridiculous talk intimidate you. You can beat the odds. I did, she did, and so can you. 

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