Hello! Greetings from my textbooks, notebooks and piles of practice exams! Yes, that’s right. It is currently finals week here at the University of Illinois. Only a few more days until summer! But until then, tests which cover everything you’ve been learning (or were supposed to learn) over the past few months must be completed which will determine your whole future. No pressure. Currently I’ve taken one final, have two more tomorrow and my last final will be Friday morning. Then I get to move to Michigan and start work on Monday. Yep. I know. It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s exciting! So, I haven’t written a Joy of Engineering post because I’ve been stuck under quite a few textbooks, but I wanted to find joy in finals, so here we go.

My joy of engineering is faith.

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NFK 118 Chapel Cover, helping out with a church retreat earlier this school year.

As many close friends know, I’ve experienced statistically significant spiritual growth over the past year. When I lived Houston, I really struggled to find God in my life because I had no community or support in a city where I knew very few people. Upon returning to Illinois, I slowly increased my involvement in the Catholic community on campus. When I encountered struggles, I always had friends with in this spiritual family to fall back on who loved me and guided me in growing closer to God. Even though this semester was even busier than last semester, I was able to serve on a retreat and increase my attendance at daily mass and prayer time. And I found so many more joys in my life, even though I was busier. God is responsible for my joys. In Him, all things are possible. And so my joy of engineering is faith.

My joy of engineering is faith because I know that whatever happens with final exams, God has a plan for me. I have faith that my studies will be well spent just as the time I take off of studying to go to daily mass or go pray in the chapel will also be well spent. I have faith that God will help me grow in whatever way he sees fit and that he will help me succeed this week. By succeed, I mean take finals to the best of my ability. I do not want to define my success by a grade on a final, but by how these exams fit into God’s plan for me and how they help me grow closer to God. I find joy in knowing that I am not alone through the struggles of studying and completion of challenging final. I have faith. I have God.

Regardless of your beliefs, I think you should also find joy in having faith in yourself. Never ever think that you are stupid or that your questions are dumb as you study for finals. Instead, look at your textbook and admire how many chapters of new material you learned this semester. Redo homework problems you struggled with and be amazed by how much better you understand them. Take joy in having faith in yourself because you have learned so much and have conquered the semester.

I cannot begin to express my love and gratitude to my friends who have shown me Christ over the past year through Koinonia, small group, mass, etc. Thank you to all of Illinois’s Catholic community for being fellow children of God!

Happy not-Monday-anymore! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and that you had a good Monday too. As of now, I have only one more Monday of classes left. I can’t believe this semester flew by already. Only a few more weeks and I’ll be a senior. Maybe that will be a joy of engineering at some point: You’re busy that you barely notice how much time flies past until graduation is less than 365 days away. But that will be saved for another day!

My joy in engineering today is: #WIEchooseIllinois.

#WIEchooseIllinois is a trending hashtag for Twitter that means Women in Engineering (WIE) choose Illinois. Tonight I participated in a Twitter chat for admitted students to ask questions about what it was like to be a woman in engineering at Illinois. I sat in a room some really beautiful women whose many talents include leadership, engineering (of course!), entrepreneurship, advocacy, etc. We answered admitted student questions and also shared stories of our past 3-4 years at Illinois. I loved seeing these incredible women sharing their Illinois experiences: researching to cure cancer, visiting Silicon Valley to learn more about start-up culture, leading the Society of Women Engineers, studying abroad and so much more. The level of passion for engineering and Illinois in the room was almost tangible.

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Did I mention the Alma Mater is back after her restoration? My first picture with the University of Illinois icon was as an admitted student when I came for orientation during the summer of 2011.

The other reason that my joy of engineering is #WIEchooseIllinois is because three years ago this month I made the decision to come to the University of Illinois. I had only visited Illinois twice. Everyone in my hometown thought UIUC was in Chicago, not Urbana-Champaign. It was by far one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had as a student here at Illinois. I’m so very thankful for the people who chose to come to Illinois with me. I can’t imagine losing even one person from the communities I love like the Catholic Newman Center’s Koinonia “family”, the WIMSE (Women in Math, Science and Engineering) Living-Learning Community dorms, CUBE Consulting, etc. These people have changed my life. Not in a sappy way, but in a way that I will use to help me continue to become a better version of myself throughout the rest of my life.

So to all of my friends and fellow (or former) University of Illinois students: Thank you for choosing Illinois!

When I moved to the University of Illinois as a freshman, I knew no one on campus. I grew up in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. When the University of Illinois is mentioned, Ohioans frequently respond, “Oh, I love Chicago!” Actually, the University of Illinois’s main campus is located here in Urbana-Champaign, about 2.5 hours south of Chicago.

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WIMSE took a trip to Chicago freshman year where we visited the Museum of Science and Industry and took these pictures.

So I chose to live in the Women in Math, Science and Engineering (WIMSE) Living-Learning Community for my first year at college. A living-learning community is a floor (or several floors, in the case of WIMSE) where people of similar interests live. WIMSE consisted of three floors of at least 50 girls each who were studying subjects related to math, science and engineering. As a freshman who knew no one at a school of 40,000+ students, I felt at home because I lived in WIMSE. I found friends, study buddies, people to go swing dancing with, and so much more from the ladies at WIMSE.

A living-learning community for women in STEM is a beneficial method to encourage women to continue studying science and engineering. I was able to create my own support group who encouraged me to continue studying and dreaming of changing the world, even when I had a 40 page lab report due the next day. WIMSE was a home where female engineer and science students were a majority, not a minority as often happen in physics and calculus classes. When women find a community that both helps and supports their dreams, women will exceed their goals. This is what WIMSE does for women of STEM. Living-learning communities like WIMSE increase the retention of women within science, math and engineering fields of study.

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One interest shared throughout WIMSE was Doctor Who, so my dorm room became a place where WIMSE and other Whovians could watch new episodes on Saturday nights.

Now, 2 out of my 3 roommates live with me off-campus after we became good friends in WIMSE. I still spend weekend nights with former WIMSE girls because they’re still our best friends even though no one lives next door to each other anymore. Most of the executive boards of engineering student organizations include at least one former WIMSE resident, especially the Society of Women Engineers. Former WIMSE residents are currently accomplishing their dreams: attend their top veterinary school, travel the world, work for NASA, conduct ground-breaking research on cancer, etc. I think living in WIMSE for my first year and a half of college was one of the best decisions I made because what I learned living in WIMSE continues to inspire me to be the best engineer I can be.

At the airport in January, preparing to fly for eight hours from Detroit to London for study abroad.

Over three months ago, on a dark rainy night, I arrived in Swansea, Wales with two huge suitcases of almost everything I owned. After an hour of running around in the dark with luggage, I finally figured out how to pick up my keys and move into my current home. It took some adjustment to get used to study abroad, which I expected. However, I was unprepared for the adjustment of a friend who had also come from Illinois to Swansea with me.

In January 2012, I decided that I wanted to study abroad in January 2013. Instantly, a good friend and fellow chemical engineer decided that she wanted to study abroad as well and would come with me wherever I went. Together, we planned our study abroad experiences for January 2013 here in Swansea, already discussing the three week spring break we would do together as a tour of Europe. At the same time, we continued to take the same classes together and also decided to live in an apartment together for the academic year of 2013-2014 with two of my best friends.

After arriving in Swansea, all of my careful planning quickly dismantled itself. My friend and I adjusted in our own separate ways to the United Kingdom. We settled into different methods of thinking and dealing with our new situations which we believed to be the “right” and “correct” way so that we failed to understand the other person. Sadly, both of us thought more highly of ourselves than of each other. This led to a lot of disagreements between us that unfortunately poisoned our friendship. I did not go on a grand tour of Europe with my friend for spring break nor will I be living with her next semester because we must now work to salvage our friendship as much as possible.

This sad personal story brings me to what, in my opinion, is one of the largest problems facing women in engineering today: Women react in unhealthy ways to competition and are more emotionally vulnerable to it. Women are catty and hold on to grudges a little too well. In my case, my friend and I competed over which method was the “best” way of living the study abroad experience. Generally men are more prone to reacting to an insult physically, exchanging a few blows and then making up the next day. Women, on the other hand, remember when someone wounds their pride all too well for weeks and make use of opportunities to exact revenge in a spiteful manner. This is a stereotype and not always the case, but it’s also mostly true.

Illinois’s 2011-2012 Society of Women Engineering Team Tech, a group of engineers who compete in a design competition that fosters healthy rivalry among women.

Engineering is a competitive program. In order to receive an A while studying at Illinois, 80% of my class has to perform poorer than I do. Being an out-of-state student on academic scholarship, I especially feel the weight of this competition and the pressure to perform. I also must confess to feeling a little¬†schadenfreude when the girls who always talked behind me in my first college chemistry class dropped the class because it was too challenging for them. Competition is currently necessary in order to make the engineering curriculum function and it’s necessary in life as well. However, it fails to encourage women to pursue engineering because the competition in engineering can cause resentment and destroy friendships, especially for women.

Should girls and boys be educated separately in math and science? I don’t think so. I’m a staunch promoter of gender equality, outside and inside the classroom. That being said, girls and boys do think and approach problems differently. Girls and boys place different values on different things. Engineering is dominated by men so it is designed to accommodate their method of thinking more than women’s. In order to promote engineering to women, I believe engineering needs to design its sense of competition to be appealing to both men and women without causing the social strain I’ve experienced recently.

This post is part of the Woman in Engineering category to be used in a future ethnography. These posts reflect feelings and experiences from a student, not concrete truth and hypotheses.

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