I've always been someone who goes after something that they want. You can even ask my parents; if I wanted to go do something, they would have a pretty hard time (or even unable) to tell me that I couldn't or shouldn't do something. So when I said I was going to school to study engineering, they weren't going to stop me, and I wasn't going to stop myself.
However, when I look back on my college career, one key obstacle I dealt with was how alienating, frustrating, and discouraging it was to being sometimes one of the few women and one of the only black women to be in my classes all throughout my four years of undergrad.
The reason why it was so challenging is because of the battle between trying to show that you are capable and intelligent enough to be in the classroom like everyone else while trying to learn and gain understanding on complex topics. When I was a sophomore and I started taking classes specific to my major, it was so frustrating to me that it appeared that all the guys in my class had formed friendships and partnerships with one another, appearing to know the information really well, while I'm still trying to connect the dots and fill in the missing pieces. I realized quickly why few black women pursue degrees in STEM let alone a degree in Computer Engineering cause feeling like you don't belong is tough. However, there's ways to overcome that feeling and make that experience less painful. Here's how:
1. Get the notion that everyone but you understands the material.
One day, I went to computer science resource center at school to get help on a coding assignment. I noticed a guy there who was in my class so I went up to him and asked if he figured out a certain part of the code. He then proceeded to take it upon himself to go through his code ignoring the question that I even asked him. I listened patiently and then realized that he had no idea what I was talking about and hadn't even gotten close to where I was at in the assignment. While I was annoyed that he wasted my time with this whole dialogue, it made me realize that some people like to brag about how much they know even though they may not know the answer at all. This aided in assuring me that I am just as smart and capable as everyone else in the classroom.
2. Join a professional minority organization
Ever since I was a freshman I was involved in the National Society of Black Engineers. While, this provided a great networking avenue as well as countless opportunities for professional and career development, it provided me a support group on campus who were there if I needed help. Through NSBE I gained mentorship, advisement, and support from my peers as well as people older than me which made navigating through the school of engineering a little bit easier.
3. Surround yourself with great, supportive friends.
My freshmen year I became friends with other black women who were studying engineering and in my year. Even though after freshman year we all took different classes, we still stuck together and kept motivating and encouraging each other making sure we all stuck with it. While women are always depicted as being "petty" or "tearing each other down", we celebrated each of our successes as if they were are own. Even now, as I've graduated and started my career in New York, we still keep in touch with one another and I still rely on them as if they were still within walking distance from me. I honestly don't think I would've gotten through engineering if it weren't for the fact that I knew they had my back and that they were always going to be there for me. Choose the people you surround yourself with wisely. You may find your best friends and you'll have consistent positivity even when things appear to be negative in front of you.
You can't make it through engineering alone. In fact, you can't really make it through life on your own. However, if circumstances may make you feel lonely, look for outlets that will give you a sense of belonging. - The Engineer