Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear classroom presenters: suck it.

Someone's been doing dirty business behind my back! They've been going to schools and telling the kids that engineering is REALLY HARD, and saying things like:
"You have to take more math than a math major." (not true)
"You have to write 600 tests every year." (the hell!?!)
"Everyone says that it's the hardest degree you can take." (I'm quite sure some of my classmates would find an English degree nearly impossible)
"If you don't have straight A+'s in math and science, you may as well not apply because you'll fail. And even people with 100% averages fail sometimes because it's too much work."

I don't know how the male students react, but some of my female mentorees have been sending me increasingly worried e-mails as of late, like "DO YOU SERIOUSLY HAVE TO TAKE 600 TESTS!!!!!" Some of them have been reconsidering their career choices (which is fine, I want to see them end up somewhere where they're happy, which I fully realize may not be engineering) because of these presentations. Isn't that the opposite of what you want to accomplish when you're presenting at a school?

I don't see the point of all this chest-thumping. The only explanation I can think of is that the engineering students want to stroke their egos and convince the high school students to worship them. I've noticed that some people even have that attitude on campus, and constantly need to complain to every other department about how their workload is impossible, the courses are the hardest ever, etc, etc.

Maybe the presenters just want to discourage mediocre students from getting their hopes up, and they figure that's the best way to do it. However, I don't see why they couldn't just talk about the admissions averages and then encourage C and D students to spend a year at college or something if they really want to go to university, then transfer in.

Maybe they're just joking and think that the high school students will catch on. Which is fair enough, but... from what I'm hearing, some of these kids don't have any idea what university is like, and trust its representatives to give a fair and honest description. I know I didn't have the foggiest idea about university/postsecondary until I got here. Some of my high school students honestly believed that there were 600 tests a year in engineering. I know that's ridiculous, I'm sure the presenters know that's ridiculous, but if the students don't know anyone in engineering or any university students, then what are they supposed to think?

I spent way too many years in a subpar school system that told the students that we weren't the "good schools, like the ones in (big city) ", we didn't have the good teachers, good enough resources, whatever. And you know what? It kind of stuck. Some of my teachers told me that I wouldn't be as prepared for university as kids from other schools (which was kind of true, but not to as severe of a degree as I thought), and even that I shouldn't go because I wouldn't be able to handle it.

That turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. Whenever I ran into something I didn't immediately understand, I would start to panic and extrapolate everything into a catastrophe (which I can't blame on my high school teachers, only myself). Once, a professor told the class (in the third lecture, no less) that if we didn't understand a concept introduced that day, we should drop out of engineering because we would never be able to be engineers if we were that stupid. Guess who didn't understand the concept? Funnily enough, the administration told me that there was a rule that you can't drop out of engineering until after the first two weeks of class are over, because they have too many people that want to drop in that time to process the requests. Or something. I'm not sure if they were lying or not, but thanks, registrar's office, now I have a degree!

Anyway, I know the school presenters might seem like a trivial issue, but they're really frustrating me. I spend a lot of effort encouraging people to be excited about learning things and curious, and to consider career paths that they might not have considered otherwise. It's really disappointing to see other people coming in and discouraging high school students from something that could be really fulfilling for them, especially by calling it hard or even impossible. Should high school students freak out because something is going to be hard? No, but that's another post...


FrauTech said...

Haha, that's great. I think high school students just aren't exposed to engineers enough. And yes I think part of it is some kind of badge of honor or how hard people worked to get through college. Luckily I worked with a bunch of engineers early on so I got to see how plenty of them were not very bright, or not bright in every way. And others who told me of barely skating by on mediocre grades but I know them now to be extremely intelligent and successful engineers. I think if the design aspect of engineering was more emphasized girls/women would probably be more open to it as it seems to me to be as technical as a lot of other careers that are commonly considered by girls/women (biology, accounting, etc).

Enginerd said...

Oh, I hear you on that. I had a roomate that failed the same math course 4 times, but sailed through assembly-level programming on a breeze while everyone else sat there dying.

That's neat that you met a bunch of engineers early on! I didn't feel like I had met enough to make a decision about what kind of engineer I wanted to be even in second year, when I had to pick a discipline.

I tend to veer off on tangents. Pick your tangent from the menu on the right.