Monday, March 15, 2010

Why I'm an Engineer

Here's the spoiler: it was the guidance counselor.

When I was a senior in high school I wanted to be an astronomer.  Or a poet.  Or, or, or.  I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I looked through college catalogs, but didn't seriously consider college-hunting because my mother worked in the library at a perfectly good one in Cleveland (think free tuition). 

Early in the spring of my high school senior year, a guidance counselor called me in to his office to let me know about a scholarship for minority engineers offered by TRW, an industrial conglomerate with factories in town.  Those were the days when a white girl qualified as a "minority," in engineering.  I applied for the thing and got it!  Never mind that I had absolutely no idea what an engineer was.

The scholarship was $1,000 a year, but more importantly it was an engineering job every summer for 4 years while I was in college.  I don't think I was even 18 years old when I walked into the TRW factory shortly after I graduated from high school.  I worked in the Industrial Engineering department and surprisingly, they gave me real work.  They took the time to explain concepts, calculations, and show me things.  I learned how to measure parts with gages, how to determine if a capital investment had been a good decision, how to talk to machine operators, how to make an area layout.  It was amazing, and as I said, I wasn't even 18.  I also learned that I like Industrial Engineering.  No kidding.  With an introduction like that, how could I not!

So, I didn't choose engineering as much as slide sideways into it.  I worked in that factory for 4 summers while I got a degree in Industrial Engineering.  I worked there for 2 more years, and then had my first moments of doubt.  It was 1989.  I wanted to work outside.  I wanted to make a difference in the world.  I wanted to save the environment.  So I went back to school (a cheaper school this time, since I was paying) and got a Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering (for saving the environment).  I stayed at the TRW factory for 2 more years while I was in school, but worked in the chemistry lab.  Hours like 4am to 8am plus a full courseload and another part-time job and a husband that worked 2nd shift, but that's another story called The Things I Did to Make It Work.

Since then I've done a lot of cool engineering work all over the world.  I've had several more moments of doubt with the same wants.  I want to work outside, save the environment, make a difference in the world.  Now, as you folks know, I've never been closer.  But now my doubts are deeper.  Maybe my sister got it right.  She got a high-power degree too, in international business and German (sorry if I got it wrong-sis!) and worked all over the world as well.  She married her Mr Right and now she's a mom, doing some part-time work from home but mostly raising 2 daughters and managing the domestic front.

I understand that you can't have it all.  When I chose to frolic through careers, companies, states, and the world, I gave up the option of having a family, being stable, domestic.  But now I desperately wish I was a ... housewife.  There's a deep vein of something there that I'm just beginning to see.  Me and a whole raft of forty-something women who've worked incredibly hard to forge new boundaries and get respect in the corporate world, turn around and look at ourselves.  Incredibly accomplished but alone. Good at working in the world of men, but unskilled in the ancient, nurturing, supporting ways of women.

It's a bit of a new thought for me, and I haven't thought it all the way through.  I may not ever get to the other side of this one. Where's the guidance counselor now?

The picture above is of my yard yesterday.  Last weekend's rain took much of the snow away, but there's still places where it's a foot deep.  It's supposed to be a wonderful week after today, so this same picture taken a week from now will be completely different.  I hope.


  1. It's the chickens. They are bringing out the caretaker and cook in you. Get a few goats...and you'll be all better. There will be enough picking up after them and laundry when they get you dirty to make it feel like housewifery. Trust me.

  2. This may sound weird, but I made an apron last spring, and started wearing it in the kitchen..and then I found a couple hanging around and it seems that I feel more like a domestic goddess when I wear an apron and I like it. I think when someone sees me in an apron, they may also think - this women is not afraid of her house and the work there-in. I made aprons for several people for Christmas and I really haven't heard any apron-love messages from them yet, but I think for me it is a dress for success kind of thing...and I'm thinking of making a few more for the things I do.

  3. I'm 27, I have 2 kids and my husband goes to school full time, and I don't work. We got married and I had my son just after our 1year anniversary. I always wanted kids and wanted to be a "wife" and all that comes with it....5 years later no collage degree with 2 kids I could not be happier, but and this is a big BUT I wish I was more like,,,YOU! I always relied on others for everything. I'm just now finding out that I can be a strong woman on my own! I have a wonderful husband but I'm trying to learn how I can make myself happy and not rely on others for that. SO....What I'm trying to say is you are an amazing person, I know I don't know you other than your bolg. but I enjoy reading your journey in life. I think no matter who we are or what we've done with our lives we can always ask "were would I be if..." We just do our best with were we are and hope god will lead us to were we need to be!

  4. Excellent introspective piece.

  5. The grass is always greener on the other side. And if you hadn't done all that you did and did what your sister did you'd probably be sitting down lamenting your talents never used or the trips you never took.
    You already have "it all" now the secret is to want it too.

  6. Very interesting post, Jordan!