14 Mar Meet Fifi, Girls Build LA Mentor and Engineer
By Fifi Buchanan
“Wow, a female engineer! That is impressive.”
I hear this often, but I look forward to a day when it isn’t impressive. What I mean is, I look forward to a day when a woman being in a STEM field is no longer rare, but has become commonplace. I know from firsthand experience that there are so many young girls who not only have an interest in the math and science fields, but with the proper training, could excel and bring forth some of the best and most-needed inventions.
From a young age I have always been fascinated with science. When I was around eight years old, I wanted to be an astronomer. I didn’t know much about it at the time, just that it was totally fascinating. I got familiar with the constellations and would proudly point out the Big Dipper and Little Dipper whenever it was a clear sky at night. My mother helped to fuel my growing curiosity by buying me science kits, encyclopedias, and educational electronic devices.
By my senior year of high school, I was able to attend a camping conference hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers. I don’t know how my mother found out about it, but she signed me up and gave me no choice! I wasn’t happy about this, because I wanted to stay home on the weekend and hang out with my friends.
That weekend would change the course of my educational career. From Friday to Sunday I was immersed completely with projects and activities that caused me to think critically, work with my hands, take a close look at nature, and to learn about subjects I might have a chance to take in college.
The conference was completely run by college students, and I was surprised to learn they weren’t all nerds! They all managed to pursue their passion and have fun while doing so. I started college the following year, and though I remained undeclared for a while to decide on a specific major—I knew I wanted to pursue engineering.
Engineering presents a number of challenges outside of just the course load being difficult. Women are still far outnumbered, and it can be intimidating. Students need to grow to further appreciate the diverse backgrounds of their classmates and continue to welcome them and learn from them. Professors are still in need of becoming more agile in the classroom to teach in a style that can reach the many types of people represented at universities. Many will be the first in their family to achieve the degree, so it’s also a challenge not knowing what to expect.
What helped me to get through the many challenges was collaboration. Having a network of people to help me and also encourage me made all the difference. Many students hate working in groups because there is always someone who does not pull their weight. While it is frustrating working in groups at times, collaboration is not something that is ever going away. A lot of work in the real world is achieved through collaboration. Much like when I was in school, I often rely on the previous work and knowledge of others to solve new problems or to recognize issues in the process.
My career experiences have taken me on an unexpected path, and I am open to exploring further. I am not sure I will be an engineer for my entire career, but what an engineering education has given me is the keen ability to find solutions. I’d say that is a skill necessary in any field!
Fifi is a millennial who grew up in San Diego. She is a Mechanical Engineer and also blogger who covers health and lifestyle. Being a Girls Build LA mentor has been a great experience for her as she learns so much from the inquisitive students while helping them apply math and science concepts to every day life and current events. Find her on Twitter, @divinehostess, and on Facebook, Facebook.com/divinehostess.