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Buildium’s Women in Technology Scholarship Winning Essay, Spring 2015

Below is the winning essay by Harshita Guduru, a senior at the University of Texas at Dallas, originally from Plano, TX

I stared at him. I could feel the blood rushing to my ears as my face turned crimson. Did he really just say that? Nah. Who would even think of something like that? As I looked around at everyone else’s faces, it became apparent. I could still hear it ringing in my ears. “Why would you want to be a woman engineer? No one will ever respect you.” I turned away to hide the fury that I was positive was clearly written all over my face. I took a deep breath and then just walked away.

When you are a woman engineer, most people have an opinion about you. Some people commend you for being brave. Some just assume that you are a genius because “obviously, how else could a woman be an engineer?” Others automatically conclude that you are “man-ish.” Some even condemn you for it. I will never understand these remarks, but since females are a scarcity in engineering, people believe that there must be some special reason that I am pursuing it.

Lately, the topic of the gender gap in stem careers has been spotlighted in the news. Studies show that computers and technology have been targeted mainly towards males. More males end up buying and becoming more familiar with this technology leaving women behind, consequently creating the large gender gap in technology related fields that we see today.

As a female engineer, I fear that this is a root cause of the gender divide in engineering. Both my parents are in the computer field, so I’ve had access to a personal computer since the age of 7. My mom and especially my dad always affirmed that computers are the future and the sooner I learned about them, the better off I would be. Without even knowing it, I incorporated computers into my daily lifestyle and learned more about them than the average 13-year-old girl.

When I was 8, I was the only girl in my website class; my mother taught me the basics of HTML to create my own website. When I was 9, she moved on to teaching me the basics of programming. Between the ages 8 to 14, my father would give me allowances to create PowerPoint presentations. As I got older, I applied this practice to my developing interests. Why did I have such a thirst for knowledge about technology? Because I had a computer.

Going to high school in Plano, Texas, a city with one of the best school systems in the state, I never even knew that being good at math or science was controversial. I took advanced placement math and science courses, but no one ever seemed to care that I was a girl. Even when I did really well in my calculus classes, no one cared that I was a girl. In these classes, all that we, as students, ever prized were good grades, not which gender achieved them.

So why are things are so different in college? Honestly, I’m not sure. There is no special reason; I chose engineering because I like the material. Since childhood, I have been interested in learning about the inner-workings of mechanisms and especially how past engineers were able to control such machines. In order to fully comprehend the methodology, it was only natural that I excelled at math and science. In my family, it was lauded to flourish in both. Coming from such a supportive background I don’t comprehend the hostility in college. I tried to reach out to my parents, the way I usually do when I have a problem, but they couldn’t understand why this got to me so much. But my sister did.

Being five years older than me, my sister always filled more of a third parental role in my life. When I was a child, she would scold me for not putting away my toys. As I got older, she would force me to do my homework. And once I started college, the lectures didn’t stop. My sister, like me, is a woman engineer. She even went to the same university as me! And she, unlike anyone else, understood exactly what was going on. Several studies on women in stem show that a lack of support for women to get into these fields is a major cause of low interest. These studies suggest that young women are unable to find strong female role models who encourage them to pursue stem majors. This research, unlike kim kardashian being a hobbit, is accurate.

Finding a female engineering role model in college is like finding a needle in a haystack. I have only had one female engineering professor; the rest have been male. Most of them are good, but it is difficult to relate on these issues of gender disparity. But luckily, my sister was there for me. When no one else was, she encouraged and supported me throughout college. My sister stayed up with me to teach me java when my teacher refused to. After an all-night study session, I got the highest score in the district on my java test. When I got disparaging looks in class, when people questioned my basic intelligence, or when my professors, as mentors, failed me she was always just a phone call away. And when I did poorly on a test, she inspired me to do better on the next one.

I don’t believe that there is one perfect moment when you realize that you want to be an engineer. For me, I think it has been a long time coming, but even then I had to stumble upon this field. I changed my major many times until I found engineering. It has been one of the best decisions that I have made, despite the challenges. I consider myself lucky to have a family, especially a sister, who has always supported me in my endeavors. With their encouragement, I have been able to push past the frustration and embrace being a woman engineer.

Interested in applying for Buildium’s Women in Technology Scholarship for next semester? Please see the scholarship eligibility and essay requirements.