Thoughts by Richard Bleil
At the Drive-In theater, I work with another ticket taker, a young woman about to begin her senior year of high school and is thinking she would like to go to college to study Chemical Engineering. Now for those who don’t know the difference, a chemist is the one who does research, figures out synthesis routes, does analytical work and so forth, but a chemical engineer is the one who makes all of the money. Well, okay, that’s true, but they make money typically by applying the principles and reactions discovered by the chemists. So a chemist might learn how to synthesize a pharmaceutical to treat a condition, and the chemical engineer scales it up for mass production.
I gave her advice to search for a job. We’re in an interesting time. One can look for jobs even without the proper credentials, and it’s something I always recommend that students do before going to college. By looking up jobs for chemists, and for chemical engineers, and reading the job descriptions she can discover if she’s really interested in chemical engineering. No, I’m not trying to sway her, I just want her to be informed. With the job descriptions, she can see which is more interesting to her, plus she can compare salaries, the locations where most of the jobs are, and the degree required for the kinds of jobs that are most attractive to her. In my opinion, one should design an educational pathway that leads to the desired life, rather than trying to mold a life to a degree earned.
Anyway, I’ve kind of been trying to take her under my wings and act as a kind of mentor, of sorts, if she’ll allow me. She’s very quiet, and the last time we were chatting, she admitted that she is rather shy. The truth is that shyness is something that I know a bit about thanks to first-hand experience. But being shy really doesn’t do anything for the person who suffers from it.
She said that she wishes she could speak up more in class. It’s interesting to me that she should say this, since I did work at a women’s college for a time. Before that experience, I always wondered what the advantage of attending a women’s college is. After all, I thought, isn’t it better for women to learn to interact with men? But the advantage is that women are, to this day, minimalized in our society, and especially in higher education. They are often “talked over” by the males in the class and are more likely to have their input dismissed by male faculty. Hopefully it’s getting better, but if it is, we still have a long way to go.
She is not planning on attending a female only college. In fact, she is thinking about attending a university where I once worked as a post-doctoral research assistant, a rather prestigious university known for engineering. I have had students in the past struggle with the same problem and tried very hard to get them to overcome these issues and to speak up. I asked her if she believed that, with my experience in higher education and working with students, if I was a good judge of character, and if I could tell if a student has what it takes to be successful. When she said she thought so, I gave her a gift.
I asked her to look at me, to focus on me, and I told her that she is worthy, intelligent, and has great things to contribute. I repeated it a few times, looking into her eyes, and told her that when that little voice inside of her head tells her that she’s not worthy, and should just stay silent, to picture me as I looked at her and said that she is important and has much to contribute.
I feel as if, one of the great problems (at least one of the problems from my own personal past) is that we are not empowering enough to children, and certainly not to females in our society. We train them to be silent, good little girls who play with dolls and wear pretty things, but rarely do we tell them how important they are, how much they have to contribute, and how capable they really are.
I might be wrong, but it looked as if she was holding back a tear, but she did look into my eyes as I endeavored to build up her self-confidence. Her final year of high school begins in just a couple of weeks. I think I’ll ask her how she is doing at speaking up in class.