I recently read the CNN article, “Why would-be engineers end up as English majors” and it hit home for me. The article discusses the drop out problem American universities are facing with science, math and engineering majors.
“Undergraduates across the country are choosing to leave science, technology, engineering and math programs before they graduate with those degrees. Many students in those STEM fields struggle to complete their degrees in four years, or drop out, according to a 2010 University of California, Los Angeles, study.
Thirty-six percent of white, 21% of black and 22% of Latino undergraduate students in STEM fields finished their bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields within five years of initial enrollment.
Nearly 22% dropped out after five years.”
I can personally relate to this problem as I started off in the Engineering Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Math was always my strong point and when my parents put me in the PreFreshman Engineering Program starting in grade school, I had this dream of being an engineer. To be accepted into the Engineering School at UT was a huge accomplishment for me because it was ranked as the top 10 engineering schools in the nation.
I definitely stuck out a like a sore thumb, being the only female in some of my labs and being Hispanic. I studied with mostly Indian and Asian males. One of the biggest challenges for me was having to work and study. I had two jobs, working at the REC center and at the Engineering school, raising money from Alumni for scholarships. It was definitely tough, as many of my schoolmates did not have to work.
I remember struggling in Physics class and I went to talk to my professor during his office hours. He asked me if I had a job and I said “yes.” He said, “well you better quit so you can have more time studying.”
When I received a D on an exam in Calculus I, I went to my professor to discuss options for me to improve. He actually told me that I probably wouldn’t pass the class and to consider just retaking it next semester. I got myself a tutor and ended up passing the class.
I never told my parents this but I had to take Calculus II twice. My Russian professor based the entire class on only 2 exams and I was so focused on my other classes that I felt I had Calculus in my back pocket. Well, I was wrong. When I went to speak to my professor, he did not budge.
It was challenge after challenge but I kept pushing. During my second year, I started having second thoughts about being an engineer. While working at the UT Engineering School, I spoke to many alumni that had lost their jobs at Enron or were not practicing engineering anymore. I remember speaking to one graduate that owned an ice cream shop. “What was I doing here?,” I thought.
After my Thermodynamics class, I decided I wanted out. I wanted to be a Business major. When I went to speak to the counselor at the UT Business School, the #1 business school in the nation, I was informed that the accepting GPA was a 3.5 but the average GPA of students being accepted was a 3.9 (I had a 3.1). It didn’t matter that I was already a UT student in one of the most competitive programs. That meant that a community college student taking only their basics that had a higher GPA than me had a better chance of getting in. It didn’t make sense to me. The recommendation was for me to switch to Liberal Arts and trying getting my MBA from UT. What was I going to do with a Liberal Arts degree?
I made one of the toughest decisions in my career. I left UT and transferred to the UTSA Business Program where I was accepted. I had to transfer all my classes and even had to write petitions for some of them even though it was all within the UT system. Some of math and science classes didn’t count towards my degree. I went on to study in Spain one semester and graduated with Bachelors in International Business. I started my MBA but haven’t finished as my career became my first priority.
Do I have regrets? No. I am happy on where I am at and am doing things I never imagined myself doing.
However, if I could have done things differently, this is what I would have done:
- Spent the day with engineers on the job to really understand what a typical day was like
- Take college courses at a community college starting as a senior in HS to get credits sooner
- Saved money for college so I didn’t have to work as much
- Joined female engineering groups to get the support and encouragement I needed
Had I had done these things, things might have turned out differently. I know for certain I want to encourage our youth to pursue degrees in Science, Math, and Engineering. Our country is hurting for graduates with these degrees and we need to do what we can to help students see themselves pursuing a career in these fields.
I do hope to get my Masters in Mathematics and teach one day. Algebra and geometry? Yes, please!