My mother always told me growing up that I was just as smart as the boys. My mother encouraged me to participate in the science fair, the robotics team, the problem-solving team … the list goes on. My mother warned me when I left for college that women are underrepresented in STEM majors. In my typical fashion, I heard but didn’t really understand.
Freshman year, day one: I walked into my Fundamentals of Engineering class excited to code and start my career as an engineer. It took all of five minutes of lecture for me to realize that only seven other girls felt that way … in a class of 60 people. This is when my mother’s warning finally set in.
This week, I was invited to participate in a student Q-and-A with Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of “Hidden Figures,” and Brenda Drake, wife of University President Michael Drake. The discussion started with a moderator asking some questions, and then transitioned to students asking questions and sharing their stories. Shetterly shared anecdotes of interviews, while Drake discussed her own experiences with STEM and underrepresentation she has observed throughout her life. Fighting underrepresentation through mentorship was a major theme of the discussion. Both Shetterly and Drake emphasized supporting others in your field and beyond. Shetterly mentioned growing up being surrounded by the engineers and mathematicians mentioned in her book, noting that she never had the concept that women or people of color shouldn’t be in STEM fields. As the child of two engineers, who grew up surrounded by the auto industry, this point resonated with me. The reason why I couldn’t understand my mother’s warning was because I hadn’t really experienced it until college.
My mother’s mentorship encouraged me to pursue my love of math and science, and to never settle for second best. Having a mentor that pushes you to excellence was another theme in the discussion. When a student asked if she should accept a position she knew was offered to her to meet a quota, Drake responded immediately, demanding she take the job and show her excellence. Shetterly emphasized throughout the discussion that if you are excellent at your job, no one can say you don’t deserve it.
The Q-and-A wrapped up with the panelists sharing final thoughts. Drake focused on fostering excellence in others, and genuinely supporting those around you — noting that another’s success can be your success. Shetterly brought up the point that, in the end, you need to let yourself off the hook. When you have achieved your level of excellence, there is nothing more you can do. Walking away from this discussion with thoughts of following the women in STEM before me, and pursuing my own level of excellence, was very encouraging.
In the four years I have been at Ohio State, I have attended a number of lectures and events encouraging women to pursue STEM-related careers. What stood out about this discussion was the focus on passing on the torch. I am already here, getting my degree and heading out into the workforce. Stories like these need to be broadcast to the world. Shetterly encouraged this by emphasizing that any moment, no matter how small, can be an opportunity to show the world that anyone can be excellent.
Fourth-year in Computer Science and Engineering
Editor’s note: Gilbert is friends with members of The Lantern staff