I was always the little girl who played with motors and magnets on the kitchen floor. I grew to love art, legos, and The Way Things Work by David Macaulay; I pieced together model roller coasters and exhausted a multitude of science kits. Learning from my dad as he designed robots, I sketched ideas of my own, including an automatic full course breakfast machine. We worked together, creating a Stamp-o-Matic and a walking turtlebot. At 14 years old, I challenged myself further, applying to my high school`s Academy of Science, Engineering, and High Technology. As is unfortunately typical in engineering, female students were critically underrepresented in this academy – there were a mere twenty of us out of ninety total students. This posed an academic challenge that I had never faced before: as an aspiring female engineer, I needed to advocate my own talents, abilities, and voice in a field where women are often marginalized.
Within the first month, we began our first project: a wooden can-crusher. I had worked on projects with boys before, but those were nothing like this. The three of us had one month to research, design, build, and test our device – a month full of arguing and frustration. My suggestions were shut down, ideas brushed away. I was assigned the `default female role` of timekeeper and documentation; I wasn`t expected to be capable of contributing anything else. We finished with a functional can-crusher, but I knew that this was not how I wanted to continue as a female engineer.
By the time junior year rolled around, it was time to face the infamous year-long Engineering Design and Development project and state competition. When I agreed to work with two other girls, I had no idea that this would entirely change my perspective of my ability as a team member, a leader, and as an engineer. For this competition, my team and I created a garage parking aid to help drivers prevent side-view mirror damage. Within our team, we created a safe space where we all valued each other`s input and carried equal responsibilities. With no expectations – or lack thereof – placed on us, the only goals we had were those we set for ourselves: goals that we were determined to reach. We fried countless circuits and adopted brutal sleep habits; however, after presenting to companies and panels of engineers, we were awarded third place at EDD State. Completing this project helped me find pride and confidence in myself that I didn`t have before.
For my final year-long project as an academy senior, I created a team of people whom I respected and who respected me in return. As a group of two guys and two girls, we designed and constructed a two-passenger, gasoline-powered go-kart. With the confidence I gained from EDD, I was finally able to make contributions that I couldn`t make in my freshman year projects: We all brainstormed together, and we all washed oil and metal residue off our hands at the end of class. I learned how to weld and laser-cut metal stock – tasks that I previously would have let the men handle. At our top speed of 27 mph, it felt amazing to test drive the go-kart, seeing how far we`d come as a team and how much I`d grown as an engineer.
Although these challenges are only the tip of the iceberg, I am now equipped with the courage to stand up for myself and my abilities as a leader and a strong team member. I am determined to succeed as a biomedical engineer, designing and innovating medical equipment to revolutionize healthcare and improve human life.