Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

About this blog:
This blog discusses the impacts of being a woman on careers in STEM fields, and the role of STEM fields in bettering the world.

The more I learn, the more I see how everything is connected. For that reason, topics on this blog range from general career advice, to personal finance, to topics of concern to women, parenthood, motherhood, breastfeeding, gardening, Geek culture, and the environment. All with a hefty dose of Space Advocacy.

All opinions are my own, I do not speak for any agency or corporation.

Moving on
I've started a new blog. For the latest, see here.

Elizabeth Lindsey: Curating humanity's heritage | Video on

Elizabeth Lindsey: Curating humanity's heritage | Video on

Among the books on my parents shelves, were the works of Thor Heyerdahl. Kon Tiki, The Ra Expeditions, and one on Easter Island. I was struck by the concept of using ancient, ancient technology to cross the oceans. Struck by the "Star Trek"-style international and interfaith composition of the crews of the expeditions. Struck by the faraway places.

Once, in college, I was browsing the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education (HSSE) library at Purdue when I came across another Thor Heyerdahl book, with maps of ocean currents, showing ways that ancient peoples could have traveled the seas in simple canoes.

Alas, I don't have the name of the book. And as an engineering student, I didn't have the luxury of time to check it out and peruse it as I would have liked. It feels strange, that this missed opportunity still stands out to me, 12+ years later.

The video also reminds me of something I read once in the Society of Women Engineers magazine, about water-priests. This book indicates they were Hindu water-priests in Bali. I encourage you to read pages 48-51 of the linked Google book in their entirety.

As an engineer, I am trained and dependent on the scientific method. There are many people who believe that science and religion are incompatible. My brother, Kawphy, is an atheist who scoffs at all religion as useless superstition.

I see a middle ground. As the TED video on Polynesian waveriders, and the Google Book on Bali's Hindu water-priests show, I believe that religion is one of the ways in which traditional knowledge of seasons, weather, plants, animals, migratory patterns, waves, and many other scientific patterns come to us.

It gets better.
I've been posting a lot of articles about bullying over the past four months. It wasn't until I read Single Dad Laughing: Memoirs of a Bullied Kid in close proximity with Geek Feminism: Connecting with female characters in geek television that I realized just how predictable, monotonous, and uncreative bullies tend to be.

Because the insults used in both posts, slung at the young Single Dad Laughing, and at the female TV characters, tend to be the same ideas: Fat. Ugly. Soft.

Or sometimes several of them together.
I remember the day I realized that my younger sister was growing up pretty. I made a comment at lunch, and later that day my mom said to me "You have that same beauty. It's just hidden under the excess weight."

What's so important about pretty, anyway?

Anti-Bullying Starts in First Grade. Or even in Preschool, judging from our experience so far. And, like First-grader Katie in this article, Society tried to tell me that science fiction was for boys. Baloney. As you'll see by the MANY comments Katie's received over the two articles, we are FAR from the only girls who like Star Wars and other SF.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a comment, and I shared a couple of other experiences I had with bullying.

See, when we first moved to Nebraska, my parents made arrangements for my sister & I to walk to the neighborhood pool, where we would catch the bus that took us straight to our school. I was in the 2nd grade at the time. There were four students on the bus: Me, my sister, and two sixth-grade boys. While we waited, the boys liked to stop by the Shoppette in the area, and pick up magazines. Playboy magazines, to be specific. And then they liked to call my name, and flash centerfolds at me when I looked.

Several guys came back with the "You deal with bullies by fighting back" response.

Well, here are two articles with good answers:
Geek Feminism: Why don't you just hit him?
Rachel Manija: Why didn't you kick him in the balls?
In the case of the boys four years older than me, I recall it going more like this:
It might make the victim more of a target. Maybe it was a weak slap and made a weak sound and the harasser smiled through the whole thing. Or the harasser caught the victim’s hand as it came up and is now holding her wrist tightly and grinning at her. Or the harasser pushed at the victim as her knee came up towards his groin, and she fell over.

Hitting does not necessarily make a situation end and it does not necessarily make the physical aggressor look strong and in control.

I posted this video once before, but it's worth repeating. If the people in your life sound more like "according to you" than "according to him," then it is time to find a different circle of friends/relations.

The summer between 8th grade and high school, I stayed with and Aunt & Uncle who lived in Florida, as an au pair for my cousin. We got to tour Kennedy Space Center, and my uncle gave me his sticker for STS-38. The nose-on mirror-image of the orbiter inspired me to join my young cousin in her coloring. I proceeded to draw six panels, with all six views of orbiters, over and over again. I was still trying out those six-panel scenes, sometimes with graph paper, when I started high school a few months later. A handful of my classmates spotted the drawings, and every time they saw me in the hallway, they started a countdown.

That one... was odd. I'm quite certain that they intended to make fun of me... but it tended to encourage a bit more than it discouraged. It tended to remind me why I was studying so hard.

Within a few weeks, the Science Club held their initial meeting. The topic? Two of the older students had gone to Space Camp over the summer, and they talked about their experiences. It was awesome.

You matter. And when, in time, you find your supportive community, then you'll find the spark of your own original gifts:

It gets better: Against Bullying
At the beginning of September, our preschool newsletter had a note to parents to talk to their children about bullying, that there had been a problem with name-calling at the preschool. I had hoped my lad would be protected from all that. I've kept an eye on his reactions since then, and I think for the time being, things are working themselves out.

A friend of mine recommended Jodee Blanco's "Please Stop Laughing At Me," so when I found it at the library I checked it out. I've linked to the website, and I would encourage anyone who is struggling with social cruelty to check out the blog, the forum, and the book.

Tonight, I just finished reading Mom, They're Teasing Me, by Michael Thompson, Lawrence Cohen, and Catherine O'Neill Grace.

Two very different perspectives. One, that of a former victim, another child psychologists. I do recommend both books.

I haven't told my story yet, and this blog entry won't be it. I will say that my school days were never as physically dangerous as some of the attacks that Jodee describes. But like Jodee, I too found my way to happiness and success.

What I get from Jodee's book, and the news stories of the past decade, is the importance of taking child-on-child cruelty incidents seriously. That, as a parent, we should not assume that our child is defective. Because both books say that we have a systemic problem.
Thompson, Cohen, and Grace put it this way: No One Is Safe Unless Everyone Is Safe.

"If we can't identify those who are likely to become violent, what can we do?  We can create a culture in the school that promotes acceptance and inclusion, does not tolerate rejection or neglect, and focuses on the responsibility of bystanders to take a stand against all forms of bullying and meanness.""

The two biggest takeaways from their book, after the above paragraph are this:
1) Adults need to be adults. Know who your child's friends are, know the other parents in the community. Talk with the other parents and talk with the teachers/staff to get as complete a perspective as possible.
2) Children truly do love their friends. "Parents...imagine that love is something that adults feel and that a child's version is milder or more diluted. They couldn't be further from the truth. Children love with all their might."
3) Some level of social troubles, lost friendships, and even teasing are normal. It's the dynamics of the classroom and the school, as open systems within the larger community that can moderate or exacerbate the situation.

"Interventions that really work at schools involve the whole system, at every level. That includes assemblies for the whole student body, training for teachers, meetings for parents, guidelines for classrooms, and well-established plans for handling bullies, victims, and the majority of children in between. And this systemwide approach can't just be a one-shot deal for a single deal for a single school year. It has to be a real commitment."

Much of the media discussion has focused lately on gay children, because of the suicides of the last few weeks. But since one of the factors in my situation was weight, I wanted to point out these articles:

1) Bullying can cause depression, which can lead to overeating, can become a downward spiral:

Obesity and depression are a two-way street | Reuters

Obese kids more vulnerable to bullies -

2) All human beings need to be accepted somewhere, somehow, sometime. In the ideal world, home is a safe shelter from whatever storms may rage in the outer world. When parents get in on the act, they may be destroying their child's haven and hope.

(It may only take one adult believing in a child to get them through. If the parents are disparaging, that one adult is not likely to be them.)

When parent's good intentions disparage obese children -

3) Social cruelty can have long-term effects.

When a bullied kid grows up -

Types of Engineering work, and Public Speaking
Today was "Bring your child to work day," and I had the opportunity to speak a little bit with one young man who was thinking about engineering.

I know I have written before about how engineering does require a good foundation in math and science. (Remember, this means persistence.) What I don't think I've written about yet is the importance of communication skills.

See, there are MANY kinds of engineers. There are engineers who:
-- actually design and fix hardware. These are sometimes called "real engineers," but they aren't the only engineers around
-- design and program software
-- design and execute tests on the hardware, software, or both
-- write requirements for the hardware and/or software and verify that the design meets those requirements
-- manage projects
-- analyze and simulate systems
-- provide product information in order to guide buyers to the best fit for their needs

These engineers work in a wide variety of environments. Some get out in the field and dirty. Some spend their days in a cubicle. Some wear suits to present / persuade an audience. Most engineers find themselves working in a team and presenting their ideas at meetings. Many engineers do all of the above.

With that in mind, I'm going to recommend this:

Why You Need to Be a Decent Public Speaker - On Careers (
With an emphasis on (3), knowing your subject.

When I was at Purdue, all undergraduate students were required to take COM 114, a course on communication that emphasized public speaking. It was not my favorite course, and most students grumble about taking it. My three individual speeches:
1) A history of Purdue astronauts
2) A history of rockets (U.S. and Russian)
3) A persuasive speech on why we should explore space

went over like lead balloons. Especially the third.

But the course changed my life. In researching the astronauts, I discovered a whole library of books written by (or with) space professionals about their experiences in the industry.

Not only did I find a hobby in Space History. Deke Slayton wrote about his difficulties learning Russian as a 40-something year old astronaut preparing for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
I had long thought about learning Russian. Deke's words reminded me that sooner was better than later. The Shuttle-Mir program and bringing the Russians onboard the International Space Station project reminded me that the language could be useful on graduation. When I saw a sign advertising Russian 101 the next semester, I decided that now was a good time to start.

Communication skills are important for an engineer. Language skills are important in a globalized world.

Public speaking can also be key to succeeding in some jobs.

I lost count of the number of speeches and presentations I made in my previous job, there were so many. Most were refined over weeks and sometimes months of work, studying and defining the problem, consulting with experts to get the facts right and learn the ins and outs of the options, presented in two or three or five forums to coordinate one or more recommendations, and finally getting the approvals to proceed.

Just like math, just like science, public speaking is a skill that can be learned and refined through practice.

Social Justice
Once before, I believe, I wrote about being caught between two worlds.  My family of origin leans heavily to the right-wing conservative.  My in-laws lean heavier to left-wing liberal.  But the differences of opinion go back farther than that.

For all that Mary Edward Wertsch writes primarily of people who grew up military in the 1950's and 1960's, much of what she writes still holds true for growing up military in the 1980's.  What she calls "The Fortress" remained authoritarian and patriarchal, and these attitudes continued to leak from the workplace into the homes of military families.  She writes "In fact, to be a daughter inside the Fortress is to be a kind of hovering spook: a weightless creature without power, without presence, without context, whose color is camouflage and whose voice is unheard."

Contrast this with the Catholic elementary school we attended, only a few blocks away from the U.S. headquarters of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. The Wikipedia entry still states "In recent decades, the organisation has emphasised its commitment to spreading not just the Catholic faith but also help to those suffering through injustice or poverty. This does not mean that the organisation is overtly in favour of Liberation Theology.”  The Columban Fathers would often say Mass at the parish, or come to speak at the elementary school.

Follow that up with two years at Mercy High School.  One book writes:
The Sisters of Mercy… were founded by Catherine McAuley to relieve the suffering of the poor of Dublin; they anticipated liberation theology by at least a hundred years and were more than ready to claim its language when Vatican II picked up portions of that theological ethic. The Constitutions speaks of Catherine McAuley’s “preferential love for the poor,” and “the poor” were the first named persons to be served in that fourth Mercy vow from inception. There was an implicit assumption that many of those poor people would be women.
A Washington Post article written by Tony Campolo describes liberation theology as "the simple belief that in the struggles of poor and oppressed people against their powerful and rich oppressors, God sides with the oppressed against the oppressors."

Another way of viewing it is this:  All people have inherent value, no matter what their race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or net worth may be.

It's the social justice that has stuck with me.  And that is why I continue to attend a church that promotes social justice.  I grew up considering Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr as de facto saints, for following Jesus' teachings and practicing nonviolent resistance to oppressive and unjust authority.  Look for a side essay on the right use of power another day.

Evangelical leader takes on Beck for assailing social justice churches -
Social and economic justice is at the heart of Jesus' message, Wallis says.

For those who need scriptural evidence, I will point to the Beattitudes from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mathew 5:3-10

Or, for the matter of those who look to the older scriptures, here is a passage from Deuteronomy about gleaning.  Gleaning the fields was a way that the poor could find food to eat after the main harvest had been gathered:
When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings.  When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow.  When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21


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