As I continue my series about the women who inspired me to become an engineer, I realized one that inspired me not that much older than me. She was always watching after me, and trying to guide me through life. This person is my big sister. My sister is a very determined person. In my last post, I mentioned she went to a very competitive high school. Well, that is a bit of an under statement. She was chosen to go into a program that was basically college instead of high school. In tenth grade she was already doing college level calculus. The math was so high level that it took 5 professional engineers to help her with some of her homework!
As my big sister, I of course thought everything she did was awesome. I watched what she did more than I think she realizes. Whatever she did, I did too. Not necessarily because I wanted to be just like her, but because by her showing me she could do it, I then knew I could do it too. Her accomplishments showed me that a girl could be the best at math, that a girl could spend all summer performing with a competitive drum corp team, and that a girl could be an engineer. When she went off to college, she decided to major in Mechanical Engineering. So when my dad suggested I do the same, it didn’t seem impossible, since my big sister was already doing it. And doing it well! Along with being the vice president of the ASME student chapter at her university, she was also involved in the engineering honors society. Whatever she set out to do, she did. She showed me I could do the same.
I wrote in “10 Keys to Surviving Engineering School” that it is important to find a mentor in college, someone who has gone before you. I was fortunate that my mentor was my sister. I remember a specific time my freshman year when I was ready to quit engineering. I had “bombed” a chemistry test, and thought there was NO WAY I was going to recover. We were sharing an apartment at the time, and when I got home she could tell something was wrong. I told her I was done, that there was no way I could recover. She sat there and listened, then helped me pull myself back together. She assured me it was not over. That I could bring the grade back up. She told me to stop studying alone, and start studying with a group. She told me to go to the professor’s office hours, so he knew me from among the 300 other chem101 students. I listened to her advice, and by the end of the semester I had pulled my grade up to an A. She had been right. I was not done. I could do this.
After graduation, my sister went on to a career in the chemical industry. Just as she had in high school and college, she excelled in her career, frequently receiving recognition for her work. A few years after graduation, she married, and was soon the sole income earner for her family. Her husband had decided to go back to school for a graduate degree. She showed me that a woman could be the main income earner for her family, to support a family goal. Even while pregnant. As she moved through these decisions, I was watching how she handled it all. After her husband graduated, they were faced with another major decision: stay where they currently lived, or move where my brother-in-law had received a new job. I watched as my sister made a decision I never thought she would make. She decided to leave her career to raise her child. She ignored people as they made ignorant statements like “Isn’t that a waste of her degree” or “Its a shame she had to sacrifice her career”. She held her head high, and was the best mother she could be. Watching her gave me the confidence to make the same decision years later, even among a world that did not understand.
I am fortunate to have a sister who set such a great example for me. She charged through the world, not caring what others thought. I hope you found her inspirational, as another woman who ignored societal norms, and made HER own decisions.