My first degree is a BA in Graphic Design. Even before I graduated, I knew I didn’t really want to pursue graphic design but didn’t have the foresight to change majors back then. I figured graduating with any degree regardless of emphasis would be okay, and I didn’t know what other field of study I would change to even if I did make a switch.
Fast forward 2 years and I found myself tired of working a low wage, high-school education level job even though I had a degree, so it was back to school for Jessica! I had considered pursuing engineering off and on ever since Freshman year my first time in college, but decided against it b/c I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted and I didn’t want to delay graduation. (Man am I kicking myself for that decision!) But, this time around I decided to go for it! Really, the signs were there all along and I was just in denial. I come from a whole family of engineers; I was good at the technical aspects of art but never really the creative part; I’ve always been good at math. So here I am, now working full time and going to school part time for a second bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering.
I expected some degree of gender disparity in engineering. I’ve read about the gender gap in the sciences, and that was actually part of my decision to study engineering this time- I found the idea of being a “pioneer” for women in engineering empowering. Then I got to my first engineering class and in a class size around 30, I was the only female. I don’t know why it bothers me as much as it does, but there is just something disconcerting about being a minority of one.
Seriously, what’s up with this? While women in upper level science, math, engineering, etc positions are still rare, it’s supposedly getting better at the undergraduate level- not equal, but better. In the 1970’s when my mom was studying engineering, she wasn’t the only girl in class. She says there weren’t many, but more than one for sure.
Granted, she went to a larger school than mine and I’m only in one engineering class this semester, so maybe I haven’t seen the full picture of my school’s engineering program as a whole. Maybe it was a fluke, and the ladies are all in a different section of this class.
But I’m skeptical. First day of class the professor said, “This is engineering graphics. Is everyone in the right class?” A common enough question to hear at the beginning of the semster, until he asked it again. “I just want to make sure everyone’s in the right room. This is engineering graphics.” All said and done, he asked the question 3 times. There’s a certain point at which that question clearly means, “One of these things is not like the others, what’s going on?” which leads me to believe all-male classes are the norm around here.
It freaked me out at first and as I’m wont to do, I panicked a little about if I’d made the right choice going back to school for something as daunting as engineering. But, the more I think about it, this whole situation makes me want to work harder. I want to prove wrong those men who may believe I don’t belong there because I’m a woman.
A tangentially related story- I have a co-worker who was married to an engineer, and she says her husband had only one female in his classes, but she never did any homework because she would sweet talk/have sex with the boys and get them to do it for her. Ever since she told me that story, I’ve been nervous that that’s how my classmates perceive me and so I feel the need to also prove that I can do this without being a whore in the process as well.
As the class progresses, I’m getting more confident. This is a joke of a class and I have a 100% at mid-terms. A couple of the guys have asked me for help in class with the assignments which was a good feeling. Long story short: I’m uncomfortable about being the only girl in the boy’s club, but things are still preliminary and I hope they only get better from here.
And on a positive note, I’m the only student whose name the professor can remember. That has to be worth something, right?