“It’s not easy being green”or “Why I teach middle school math”

I walked into Introduction to Electrical Engineering and quickly scanned the room.   I was 18 years old and one of only four females in a room of about one hundred.   I slid into a seat and looked around.    Two rows in front of me, a slightly older guy looked at the girl who sat next to him and snidely remarked “What are you doing here?”   She flushed , but did not respond.   It was pretty clear from the comments he then made to his friend that he had a problem with her because she was female.   Clearly, in his mind, women just didn’t have what it takes to be an engineer.

This kind of hostility based on gender was pretty new to me.   I had gone to a fairly small high school.   Everyone knew everyone.   I was the nerdy math girl.   Everyone knew it and it was just a part of who I was, like my blonde hair and two different colored eyes.   I was lucky.   I walked into that room with a pretty solid sense of myself and my abilities.   I didn’t say a word, but my reaction was pretty much, “Yeah, we’ll see what you have to say at the end of the semester, buddy.”   I then made it my mission to silence him and every other naysayer with overwhelming competence.

You might say there was more than one time when “It’s not easy being green” was a metaphor for my life.

It wasn’t always easy being the only female in my engineering classes  and it wasn’t always easy being the only female engineer in the room.   In the end, though, it is who I am, I am good at it,  and I am happy with that.   I think there is something special that women can bring to engineering.  They see the world just a little bit differently than their male counterparts.   This diversity in thought can create an amazing diversity in what and how things are created.

It is sad that only about 10% of all electrical engineers are female.   It is not that females can’t do the work, they have simply opted out at some point.  Girls start opting out by the time they are in middle school and that opting out continues in high school and college.   Once one opts out, it is really hard to opt back in.      Math is a gatekeeper that one must pass to enter engineering.   If you haven’t taken the math, you can’t do the engineering. Hence, teaching math is where I belong.   I am going to make sure that gate is open for as many girls as I can.   Middle school is when that gate starts to close, so that is where I teach.   Along the way, I  have also discovered that middle school is amazing and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

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3 thoughts on ““It’s not easy being green”or “Why I teach middle school math”

  1. Yeah, Chemical Engineering had a few more women, but the basic attitudes were the same. Sometimes I talk about it with my Middle School girls and they are confused by my stories. It makes me happy to hear that they haven’t encountered these activities so far. I’m hoping we can develop their grit and resilience for when it does happen.

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    • I actually had a professor for my electronics class say “Oh good, we have a girl in each lab section. That way we can all have a good laugh.” I am right there with you on this. I talk about it because I want my students to take the lesson that no one else can define them. And, the best response is to prove them wrong – which can be a powerful motivator in terms of work ethic.

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