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S.T.E.M. Careers: Breaking Down Gender Expectations

Typically, people assume women will find an interest in service fields such as nursing and teaching, but that does not mean that the stereotypical male career paths, such as engineering and architecture, are off the table.

The engineering program at TERRA Environmental Research Institute has allowed me to feel accepted and welcome to experience “the other side.” When applying for my academy during spring of 2014, I was well aware of the type of classes I would be taking, and the heavy load of mathematic and scientific information that I would be introduced to. But with that aside, the most significant factor of being a female in the engineering academy has been the environment I walk into every school day at 7:35 a.m.

There is no doubt that when I came in on the first day of my freshman year, I was intimidated. Intimidated by the intricate math language displayed on the board, by the abundance of metal in the lab, and by the unproportioned ratio of boys versus girls that stood before me. I wasn’t going to isolate myself for the next four years, nor was I going to request a change in academies — although I was tempted — just because I felt outnumbered. Women should never have to feel lesser than what they really are, just because of what is “expected” of them.

I wanted to be different, I wanted to learn more about what I found a passion in, and I am glad I did. In the engineering academy at TERRA, freshman year, I was able to use a new computer program, SolidWorks, which allowed me to experience a three-dimensional design process. In addition to that, I was instructed to complete/construct three homemade projects in groups, which exponentially got more intricate each time- a mousetrap car, a water bottle rocket launcher and a catapult. These were all tasks that at first I thought would be won over by male groups, but as the year went on, I realized the highest scores and coolest designs weren’t by the all-male groups, but mainly by the mixed gender ones. In society, there needs to be a balance.

It is true that generally men are better at building things, and working with their hands, but when technicality and creativity come in, that’s where the women excel. For instance, when you are building a catapult, you need to incorporate unique ways of thinking to make your catapult stand out and launch objects the farthest. When you combine the creativity the women contribute and the craftsmanship that the men can bring, the outcome will be significantly better than if the project was completed entirely by men. (That’s not to say it can never be flipped, I know many women who are talented builders and men who are exceptionally creative.)

In my opinion, society should make available more opportunities for female students to go into these S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers through magnet programs such as the one at TERRA. In this way, there will be a better gender balance developing a better output in the workforce. A note to all of the ladies out there: be courageous, step out of the box, and do what you love no matter what the “norm” may be. Create your own norm!

Lauren Zaldua is an incoming sophomore at TERRA Environmental Research Institute.

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