I applied to Ohio State as a pre-Industrial and Systems Engineering major. Three semesters later, I have yet to take a single class for my major. It is frustrating to spend so much time on math and physics homework problems when I can’t see their relevance to the work I will be doing in the future. On several occasions I have imagined a life where I am not an engineering student. I think about what I could do with more free time and different organizations or extra-curricular opportunities I could explore if I did not have so much homework each week. Sometimes I think about this while I am sitting in my room at my desk. On my desk you will find my computer, several textbooks, pens, water bottles, and a stack of papers waiting to be recycled until after finals. On the wall behind my computer I have pictures hanging up of my family, friends, and places I have visited. I also have several notes hanging up that have been written to me in the last few years.
One of the letters is a thank-you note from my young neighbor Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn is in sixth grade this year attending the same elementary school I grew up in. She loves math and coding and is interested in some day becoming an engineer. When I see Kaitlyn’s note, I am reminded of one of the reasons I love what I do. I want to be a role model to young women in STEM. I want them to know that they can do anything they put their mind to, and if I ever switched out I would no longer embody this possibility.
This summer I attended several Diversity and Inclusion meetings with the HR team from my internship. I learned about the STEM pipeline and the drop-off of interest in STEM fields that begins for women and minority identities as early as kindergarten. I was fascinated by the statistics, and this semester joined a research team in the Department of Engineering Education to learn more about what this looks like at the college level.
I keep Kaitlyn’s note where I can see it, and where I know I will often experience negative thoughts about my chosen academic path. It keeps me motivated and reminds me that the impact of earning this degree will not just be for my own life. I hope one day to attend Kaitlyn’s college graduation to see how far she has come, and see how STEM has evolved in the time since I have been a student as well.