Dear Engineering Community, It is peculiar to me that people still wonder why women are still largely underrepresented in STEM fields. Really, it is not too hard to comprehend why STEM is lacking women if you take a peek into several science, mathematics, or engineering classrooms. My very first class of college, my very first engineering-specific course! How my unbridled optimism got away from me, led me to believe that times have changed.
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My first mistake: I set my morning alarm early enough to curl my hair, put on a little makeup, and brush up on some physics I may have forgotten over the summer. My second mistake: wearing a dress. My third mistake: thinking that there might actually be boys both cute and socially adept enough in my engineering classes to be considered “ dateable” or worth impressing. Taking the stairs two at a time to get to class and to start my journey towards earning what was preached to me as the “ Holy Grail” of college degrees, I almost ran into a man in the stairwell. With the chinchilla growing from his chin, his poky elbows, and his stained t-shirt, I wondered about his home situation.
My heart hurt for him. Until, that is, he remarked, “ You look like you will like the teaching school more. It is on the other side of campus.” Then my kind, gentle heart just wanted to give him a good strong sock straight in the gut. I pushed past him and let the door to the stairwell slam dramatically behind me. I felt sure this wasn’t the last time a girl would slam the door on him.
Upon entering the classroom for my first, real, engineering-specific course(!), I noted a stale odor of chicken soup and curry that seemed to emanate from the clothing of my classmates. But the broth was too strong, and much too salty. There must be some unspoken expectation (or maybe it was a part of hazing that I missed) that if you are an engineering student, your hygiene standards must be at least slightly lower than average. I quickly learned that, hygienically, the man in the stairwell was a fairly common specimen. I tried to give these budding engineers the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe engineering courses are so time-consuming that students don’t always have the energy to shower or wash their clothes? Maybe they value furthering their intellect more than smelling good? I would later learn that, no, engineering students don’t have the time to shower – mostly because they are too busy shoving Cheetos in their mouth while frantically trying to kill that last video game boss that will bring them “ EPIC WORLD DOMINATION AND EVERLASTING GLORY!” And that stale chicken soup and curry smell? It was, in fact, students’ lunch–coming out of their pores. I took a seat at the front of the class, eagerly glancing towards the door each time it creaked open, begging for either another girl or a cute boy or even just someone to give me a welcoming smile. Disappointment started soaking in. 9: 44. There’s still time. Come on.
Come on, girl, I know you exist. I silently begged for at least one female classmate, a single confidant, amidst the current male count of 34. 9: 46 a. m. was the best minute of my day. When I heard the door close, I whipped around a final time.
A girl with a long, thick brown pony tail walked in, one earbud still hanging in her ear. Coming to a halt, she surveyed the room for an empty seat, a look of confusion and then horror creeping across her face. I caught her eyes, which mirrored mine. Trust me, they didn’t say, “ Look at all of these insanely attractive men in this class! My odds are great!” No, no, no, honey. They read, “ How the HELL did we end up here? Who convinced us STEM was a good idea?” You see, other women are much, much smarter than I am. They saw the statistics, heeded the warnings.
They ran while they had the chance. This is when I realized, women don’t want to be a part of your silly STEM, anyways. It is humanity’s loss that women aren’t more represented in STEM fields. People in STEM are literally designing the future, and women’s voices must be a part of that process. Unless, that is, we want to trust the future of the world to our classmates with sticky orange fingers. To all of the hacker hermits, the robotics rulers, the Minecraft mathematicians, I am just trying to help you (and me).
Maybe if we can make the STEM community more welcoming and appealing to women now, we can prevent our fellow engineers from pondering the laws of physics alone in their final hours. We also might be able to, you know, build a more inclusive and diverse community that is better equipped for tackling the challenges of tomorrow, but…that is of lesser importance. To the ladies out there, go get ‘ em. It is going to take a couple of us braving the salty broth odor to change this community. With love, A Fellow Engineering Student, But Not Quite A Stereotypical Nerd