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Changing Definitions…

August 8, 2014

Earlier this week I had an epiphany about how I actually had an aptitude for engineering when I was younger, that helped put my path to where I am now in a different light. A couple days later, I had a continued conversation about it that change the perspective even more. And I hope to inspire some conversation after I get all my thoughts out. But while you’re reading, I want you to be thinking about your own childhood, or your kids.

My parents considered me a troublemaker, when I was a kid. But then we had a conversation about my “troublemaker-ness” and there’s a new twist on that. When it came time to do chores, I came up with extremely creative ways to avoid doing my chores. Most of the time, the creativity was more complicated and time consuming, than if I had just done what I was supposed to, but I did it my own way. For example, when I needed to put my clothes away, I hid them, or put them in my parents room, and then locked the door. By the way, the door locked from the inside…so my parents were not thrilled with that little venture. But I also got creative about my snacktime. My parents had locks on the cabinets, and I could break into them. I knew that I needed leverage so I could get up on the counter, and would stand on the open dishwasher door, or pull a stool over and climb up. I’d have my snack, and then reinflate the bag, put it back in the box and lock the cabinet. (My parents only figured it out when my brother complained that I was getting more snacks than him) And one final example, my mom was sewing me a shirt and had put it on me to check the fit. The goal had been for me to only try it on and then take it off, but something happened and she got distracted. I wanted to go play, so I grabbed a pair of scissors (because I needed help to get the shirt off) and cut it up the front so I could get out.

All of these stories have something in common, they were examples of problem solving. I mentioned before how engineering was a lot of problem solving, and here’s some examples. I created a simple machine by pulling a stool over to get into the cabinet. I found a way out of the shirt without having someone help me. At the time of all these incidents, my parents just considered me naughty and a troublemaker, but now that they can look back on it with a calm mind, they can see the engineering solutions that I came up with. It makes me laugh to think that my adventures in avoiding chores could be considered engineering, but it can!

So here’s where I want to start the conversation. How many other people had experiences like this, where they were creative and solved problems, and maybe were considered troublemakers? What if we stop shoving down that creativity and start embracing it as the unique design that it is? I realize that in the case of my getting out of the t-shirt, at the moment it happened, my mom was not going to see the engineering solution, but the fact that I ruined hours of work. I just wonder if we can capture girls and boys into engineering (and STEM) if we show a different side. Instead of the stodgy, math equation heavy curriculum we have currently, maybe education becomes about creative ways to get through the day.

What if a final exam for a class wasn’t just regurgitating a bunch of equations on a paper, but designing, or building, or finding a way through, a maze? There’s so much more to being an engineer than what we teach now, and I’m always trying to find new suggestions for how to change it. (Maybe when I have my midlife crisis I’ll become a engineering educator)

So what experiences do you have “being an engineer”? Do you have any suggestions on how to engage the other aspects of engineering to those young boys and girls that might not have considered it? Let’s talk!

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Epiphany Regarding all that Research

August 5, 2014

Awhile back I was talking with a co-worker about wanting to do more education outreach. Specifically the kind that we did a couple months ago at a local high school. We talked about engineering to high school students for a Career Day event. My co-worker mentioned that doing this kind of stuff was really important to her because she grew up being told she’d never amount to much, and now she can look back at all those people and show them how wrong they were.

I responded to that by telling her that it was great she had that drive and story, but I didn’t grow up having people always against me, I had the opposite, and my story wasn’t nearly as interesting. She told me that my story was just as interesting. I recently had a conversation with my mom about this, and she pointed me to an epiphany about my childhood.

In my mom’s research regarding getting girls interested in STEM careers, she came across some research that said that if girls don’t have huge support or a big interest in things like engineering, by high school, negative situations will cause them to lose interest. My response to this was “How do I fit in here then, because I didn’t really have a huge interest?” My mom reminded me that I always had an interest in tools and the things my dad was doing. I had to think about it for a moment, but I remember how I used to watch my dad make things, or help him use the vice. I remember one time when he taught me how to change the oil in a car. I couldn’t have been any older than 5th grade, so the memories didn’t really stick, but I did have an interest.

My epiphany is that I always assumed my interest in engineering didn’t really develop until I was in high school, and later at Hartford, but that’s not true. I’ve been interested in engineering for a lot longer, I just never realized that was engineering. So today I can hold my head up high, and proudly say that I am an engineer. I used to think I was just pretending, that I had decent grades, but I wasn’t really a true engineer because I didn’t always have an interest, and now I know that’s not true. One of the messages I try to get across in my education outreach opportunities, is that engineering isn’t about all the math, it’s the problem solving, it’s the “lather, rinse, repeat” of designing things, and today I finally realized what that actually looks like.

Isn’t that awesome?

So in the end, there is something to that research about having support, or an interest at a young age. Girls can be just as drawn to engineering and STEM careers as men, if we reach them at a younger age, and give them the tools to ignore the set-backs and keep pushing forward.

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Personal Space of ramblings…

April 29, 2014

When I was in high school, one of my science teachers told us that if you ever wanted to know how big a person’s personal bubble was, while eating a meal with them, slowly start placing your items closer and closer to them.  When they either speak up, or move the items, you know you’ve hit the personal bubble limit.  This is a fascinating idea to me, and I think subconsciously I’m always testing the waters.  I’m constantly finding my glasses on the other side of the table, and quickly pulling them back to my side, wondering if anyone has noticed.  No one ever speaks about it, and I’m not sure if this means I have a large personal bubble, or if I’m just a subconscious analyst of people.

In my reading about ways to succeed in the professional word, one thing that comes up repeatedly is how to appear powerful.  One of the best ways to appear powerful is to take up a lot of space.  Many men do this almost automatically, where many women tend to take up less space, and thus appear less powerful.  I’m not sure if this is social conditioning, or more personality.  When there are a lot of people around, I tend to close in around myself, and take up as little space as possible.  I don’t consciously thinking about projecting any weakness, because usually I’m just trying to avoid a situation where I touch space with someone and their movements send me into spasms of annoyance.  But no one else is inside my head, so they couldn’t possibly know that I’m trying to be kind and offer them as much space as possible.  This doesn’t happen in all situations.  On the airplane, I try to take up as little space as possible, and get as much of the arm rest, or the space I need to hold the book I’m reading.  Is this a sign of social conditioning, or just a need to be comfortable in uncomfortable spaces?

Back to the body posture indicating power, I think it’s somewhat ridiculous.  There’s a co-worker I know, who oftentimes spreads out so that he takes up more space, and I just find it arrogant.  I know when I was learning about the DISC profiles, that D’s tend to take up large amounts of space, as it’s a sign of dominance, but again, I think it’s slightly absurd that we judge things on appearance and body posture, and not what’s actually being said or done.  Maybe if we all spent more time analyzing what comes out of people’s mouths, instead of how they look or how they hold themselves, people wouldn’t see gender and race differences.  Maybe if we realized that everyone looks the same under the skin, we’d stop having prejudices.

I’m frustrated sometimes, that I’m proud of Mary Barra for being the first female CEO of an auto company, because the only thing that should matter is her expertise and talent.  It shouldn’t be important that she’s female, but right now, it is.  I can’t wait for the day that we celebrate people’s accomplishments for the accomplishment, and not the color of their skin, or their gender, or their age.  

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With Pride…

April 24, 2014

My high school marching band had a call and response cheer that was mostly designed to remind us of how we should be standing, but also meant to get us in the spirit.  At the end of the cheers the drum major would call out “EYES?” and we would respond “With pride!”.  A phrase that we repeated three times before cheering for our school (the Lions).  I can’t speak for anyone else in my high school but when we would finish that cheer, I felt the pride.  Whenever we were announced and marched onto the field, I felt that pride.  The same thing happened at CSU, though it wasn’t nearly as strong as in high school.  However, the point of this entry is that I don’t have that sense in every aspect of my life, and I want to mark the moment where I start to actively change that.

When I was at the University of Hartford, I quit my job in school-age child care, to pursue employment opportunities in engineering.  The summer of my sophomore year, I got accepted for an internship at Johnson Space Center.  I was totally stoked for going to work at NASA for the summer, but I didn’t have that pride.  I went back to my old stomping grounds, and told a former co-worker where I was going for the summer and her response was “Wow!  You must be really smart!”  I laughed and told here that I was just an intern and I got the job because I had an in, so it wasn’t really me getting there on my own merit, but…it totally was!  I deserved that opportunity, I worked hard in school, I worked hard in that internship, and I should be proud.  I should have been proud then, but I was still struggling to know who I am, and to love myself.

Tonight, on my drive home call to my parents, I was telling my dad about how I was concerned that if I moved programs, I’d never get the opportunity to have a program go into production and be able to say to all my friends “See that part right there?  I designed that!  I worked on that, that’s my part!”  He told me that I just needed to be patient, that he’d worked for his current company for many years and it wasn’t until just recently that things he had designed were coming into production, so he understood my concern, but also knew that I would experience it.  And then after thinking on it a little, I realized that when I move positions within the company (I signed up for a rotation program) I may move into a group that does work on things that go into production sooner, and if that’s the case, then I will be able to tell my friends about the parts I worked on.

But before that, I don’t need to have worked on a production vehicle to be proud of what I do.  Every day I do things that I should be proud of.  Whether it be improving the amount of time it takes me to mesh an induction system, or giving a progress report in a meeting, or even just attending a meeting and being able to contribute to what’s being discussed.  These are all things that I should be doing with “eyes of pride”.  And to help kick start that, I’m going to try at the end of every work day, to write one thing that I did at work that I’m proud of.  If I can do this before I leave work, I will, but otherwise I will do it when I get home, or right before I go to bed.  The point is, I want to kick-start my self-confidence in my professional career.  I’m doing well at work, I’m supported, and it’s time for me to act like I know I’m doing well.  And maybe, having a collection of all the things I’m proud of, will help me calm down when I get overwhelmed with stressful projects, or programs not working correctly.

A thought that I just had, is that maybe I put up a white board, either in my office, or in my bedroom, and each day, I write the one item of pride that I have singled out for the day.  Then when I get to work, or get up in the morning, I have motivation to get through the day.  Though, like most of my random thoughts, it may just be a thought and not something I act on.  I do intend to act on the pride thing, but I haven’t decided just how I will execute that.  Any suggestions that people have for how they celebrate personal wins, would be really appreciated.

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More than…

April 22, 2014

I have two main goals in this blog entry, but as usually happens when I write off the top of my head, that may change.  This entry is a reaction piece.  Also, I’m going to write about cosplay, but I have never done cosplay, so take my two cents with a grain of salt, I don’t have a lot of experience with this, just personal feelings and a good memory of what other people have said on this topic.

In a previous entry I talked about being a geek, being passionate about things.  Sometimes that passion involves dressing up as characters, or creating clothing that is inspired by a blue police call box, or any number of things.  These creations take lots of energy, time, and creativity and the people that make them should be admired and supported.  Most of the time, if the cosplayer is male, there is support or admiration.  If the cosplayer is a woman, immediately she is judged upon her appearance, whether she’s skinny, or not skinny enough, how much skin is showing, pretty much everything EXCEPT the item that she spent hours creating.  This is wrong.

Now here’s where I attempt to draw a connection between my two goals.  In the situation that inspired this reaction posting, the cause of the hurt feelings, explained that he was joking, it had happened between them many times, and that everyone always laughed at his humor.  This is more wrong.

I want to put an end to the excuse of “well everyone’s laughing, so it’s not really that bad”.  Get it out of your system!  If you don’t want to laugh at a joke, no one will make you, and if someone accuses you of having no sense of humor, you can turn it back on them and tell them that you’d rather have originality and class, than be stuck in immaturity.  I ended up in a situation where a person of power was talking to a room full of (mostly) men and little comments like “well you know who really wears the pants in this relationship” or “well she was always nagging him” were thrown around like nothing.  Most of the people in the room laughed.  I laughed.  But I was not amused, I got extremely annoyed, frustrated, and turned off to the lesson because of it.  This is not acceptable behavior.  It is not okay to make stereotypical comments that are no longer valid in this country.  It is not okay to hide behind the fact that everyone laughs.  It is not okay to make the person uncomfortable with the comments, to feel like they are overreacting.  It pisses me off that people still hide behind that excuse.  It makes me angry that instead of saying “I screwed up, I’m sorry”  you get “I already said I’m sorry, but we’ve joked like this before”.  At any point in a conversation, someone can stand up and say “Hey, this is absurd, stop.”  Male or female.  Young or old.  Everyone has the right to feel comfortable.

And yes, I am fully aware of the argument that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, and that if someone has an off-color sense of humor, to shut them up, is silencing them.  I don’t have a good response to that, except that maybe having such an off-color sense of humor, isn’t a good thing.  But let’s go back to the original situation.  At no point in time, should it be acceptable to ignore someone’s hard work and make them a piece of meat to be ogled.  Whether the two people have joked about it before or not, it’s not acceptable.  Another example, a few years back a woman made an awesome Tardis dress.  The internet was supportive, and yet horrible at the same time.  Someone saw the picture and started to comment on the figure of the woman who had put a lot of effort into this dress.  They called her ugly and belittled her accomplishment because she wasn’t their ideal image.  That’s absurd.  For their effort, nerd-dom did step in try to shut down the people saying the horrible things, but surely the damage had already been done.  Damage not just to the person who spent so much time on the outfit, but also to people who saw that reaction, and instead of being proud of their own creations, hid in a dark corner for fear of getting the same reaction.  That is so wrong!

I talked about being proud of things that bring you passion, and it’s really hard to be proud when you look over your shoulder to see what nasty things are going to come your way if you aren’t perfect, or if you have boobs.

Gender inequality is not just at work, it’s everywhere, and if people would stop tearing each other down, and start raising up these passions, this would be a much better place.  Please help me strike this attitude from our actions.  When someone says something belittling, or sexist, or rude, speak up.  Sometimes it’s not about putting a person “in their place”.  Sometimes it’s easier to just change the subject.  For example, there was one day where a co-worker was teasing another friend, person A has a habit of being really close to the line between humor and offense, and judging from the look on person B’s face, he was about to cross it.

Part of me wishes that I had said something wittier, or that I had some scathing put down that would put him in his place.  Instead, I rolled my eyes, looked at person A and said “Really?” when he responded “yes really”, I shot back “couldn’t you come up with an insult that’s more original?”  I didn’t make everything right, but that subject stopped, and person A hasn’t been as hard on person B (at least around me). Can we all please act like decent human beings now?

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Friendly Competition

April 16, 2014

I want to start this off by saying that I have an addiction to pub trivia.  It’s true.  It started in Colorado when I discovered Geeks Who Drink, and then flamed back up when I found Quizzo in Detroit.  I am by no means that smartest person in the room, I am not even close to the smartest person in my group of co-worker friends, but I have a completely different background and a healthy dose of competition.  So when I’m the one who turns in the answers at the end of the round, I’m the one who picks up the “speed bonus round”, and I like reading words, so I can’t help that I get excited and answer 8 of the 10 questions before the rest of my team gets a chance to even look at the paper.

In some ways, it makes me feel like a bad team member for answering all the questions, but I’m the one who walks the answer up every round, and so why not let me have the first crack at the answers?  In addition to the speed bonus rounds, I also get very competitive about answers that I suggested which turned out to be correct, but I was vetoed and a different answer was written down.  To be fair, I am not the only one who comes up with the correct answer, but it isn’t picked.  But some of that back and forth, and the risk of having the wrong answer, is what I love about pub trivia.  I love seeing the knowledge that my friends have, or the dumb luck of some random guess being the correct answer.  Actually, that’s a funny phenomenon, to randomly throw out a guess, and then have it be the correct answer.  Could that be a sign that the knowledge was learned at some point, whether directly or indirectly? Or is it just a case of dumb luck?

Back to my original thoughts,  pub trivia is one of the few areas where I get really competitive with someone other than myself.  And I can’t stop playing.  Anyone else have something that they just can’t stop doing?

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Changing definitions

April 15, 2014

I want to change the way a word is defined.  In my limited lifetime, I have heard about words that used to mean one thing, but now mean another, and I want to add to that change in vernacular.  The term “geek” used to be an insult.  If you were a geek, you were someone who was very smart, but socially inept.  You wore thick glasses, were either a skinny rail of an awkward guy, or an ugly duckling if you were female.  At some point, that mentality began to change.  Being a “nerd” is becoming more acceptable.  This is due in part by the internet, tv and movie, and by celebrities themselves.  While the new definition of being a “geek” has become something that is more socially acceptable, the mentality is that “geeks” are immature, that they’re just being silly children, playing at fantasies.

I think being a geek is more than that.  I think being a geek is about passion.  It doesn’t matter what the passion is, but it does typically lead to a person getting more knowledge on the subject.  Typically the label of geek is given when someone has a lot of knowledge, or spends a lot of time participating in the item that earned them the moniker of geek.  I translate this to being passionate.  Passion is a good thing.  Passion is what drives us to get up in the morning.  So why is being passionate about something a negative?  Why is it a sign of “not having grown up”?

There are plenty of people whom I would call a geek, that are not necessarily the stereotypical “geek”.  I think anyone that gets really excited and passionate about fantasy football, or “March Madness” brackets is a geek.  We should stop discouraging passion.  We should stop making knowledge something to be ashamed of.  I work with a guy that is so knowledgeable about cars, that it’s become a game to come up with something that he can’t answer off the top of his head.  I think it’s awesome.

Kids are curious and passionate about things, and then we drill it out of them.  We make the idea of reading for fun seem like a sign of anti-social personality.  It doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, it’s important to have passions.  And having passions doesn’t make you less mature, or less of an adult, or less of anything.  Being a geek doesn’t define who you are, it’s only a part of who you are.  Let’s stop making being a geek a bad thing, and encourage everyone to embrace it.  Because face it, that young mother who says that she’s had to grow up and is no longer a geek, probably has something that she’s passionate about, and that means she is a geek, because being a geek isn’t something you grow out of, it’s part of who you are.

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