“You’re an enigma, Karen,” said Mr. W, my high school math teacher. In my senior year I was taking Calculus at the same time I was taking Trigonometry (which is normally a pre-requisite class). He was surprised I was making straight A’s in both classes. He underestimated me.
I attended an honors high school and although I made A’s in science and math, no one suggested that I major in engineering - I didn’t even know what it was. How does a student with killer science & math grades graduate from an honors high school without knowing about engineering as a career possibility, a career option that can fully exploit their talents, and possibly yield a lucrative salary? In fact, it happens quite frequently when those students are girls. Girls are often underestimated.
I was 2 years into my Liberal Arts college education before Engineering was introduced to me. I recognized I was well-suited to the field, so I “swam upstream” and switched my major to Mechanical Engineering. It wasn’t an easy switch. Only 10% of students were women, sometimes being the only woman in a class meant men would stare and daydream at me during lectures, and many male students didn’t know how to collaborate with and didn’t believe in their female peers - they underestimated us. It sometimes felt isolating. I found an organization that promoted more women pursuing careers in engineering, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Knowing that I wasn’t alone and that other women before me had been successful gave me the encouragement I needed. My involvement with SWE allowed me to take positive action to contribute to other women coming up behind me.
For the past 4 years, I’ve led a STEM summer camp for middle school girls to introduce them to the concepts of engineering in a fun way, to introduce them to strong & bold women who have thriving careers in engineering and technology, and to encourage them to pursue a technical or math education and career. My hope is that these bright girls grow up fully aware of the possibilities for their lives, and have the confidence to pursue their boldest dreams.
A portion of the profits from my Karen Necklace will go to support the ongoing efforts to help show girls their potential through the Society of Women Engineers.