Ishreet Kaur Grewal
Computers; Engineering. That's for boys. That's what I thought for my whole life until 10th grade. It was that time of the year; middle of grade 9. I finally got to choose courses that I was interested in and get a peek of what my life will look like in the future. As I was scrolling through the pages of courses that I got to choose from, my face was glowing with excitement because I was finally able to be in classes that I enjoyed and steer my life in the direction that I want. As I was looking through all the courses that caught my eye, (which mostly consisted of anything math related) at the time I thought that the options were endless. I was just scrolling and scrolling and couldn’t come up with what I wanted to take part in. As I gathered my whole family to make “the biggest decision in my life”, my brother came up to me and asked, “Do you even know what you like? You should kinda know what you want to do by now.” And I said, “Well I am just exploring. I am really just open to anything.” As my brother taking the role of a brother, and already being in the field of Computer Science, he strongly recommended that I would do something in the computer field. So that day, I took the say of my brother and risked “the biggest decision in my life” and took the course of Computer Engineering. As the summer of grade 10 rolled along, and we finally got our schedules, I realized that not one of my friends were in my class. But being the independent individual that I was, it really did not affect me and I tried to continue the positive mindset that I had. As I began asking my peers for their schedules, not one person was in that class. Again, being the independent person that I was, I continued to stay positive, and before I knew it, it was the first day of school. As I was preparing to go to my third period class, I was having these mixed emotions. Will I like it? Will everyone already know what they’re doing? I am definitely going to fail this class. As my hands began to fill with sweat, and all these emotions clouded my brain, I took a deep breath and I walked into the class. As I walked in, I saw the class filled with students. I skimmed my eyes across the room and not one student was a girl. I was scared. I quickly grabbed a chair and sat at a computer away from the rest of the class. As the class started, this girl entered rushing into class in the efforts of not being late, and sat right beside me. As I began to talk to her, I finally felt like I can relate to someone; a person that was in the same bar as me. As the weeks passed by we actually grew to be really good friends, and not only I was excited to walk into that class everyday, but I finally felt like I knew that my future will hold.
And as I continued to find a love for the computers field, it was AGAIN that time of year. But this time I didn’t feel as confused about what I wanted to take. As life was again repeating itself, I decided to take Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Business. But there was this one slot left. I was thinking through what I should take and I decided to take Robotics. It was a bit frightening because not only I was unfamiliar with this course, but I didn’t really know too much about robotics. As life repeated itself; school ended, summer rolled around, September came rushing in. and before I knew it I was in Grade 11. The year when Universities actually look at your grades. The year where life just becomes ten times harder than it was. The year of horror. Being Ishreet, I was confident with who I was, and I believed that I could work hard and achieve the life that I wanted going forward. So, as the third period rolled around, it was time to go to this so called Robotics class. As I pulled up my schedule from my bag, I realized that it said Manufacturing and Construction. I just remember myself thinking that this had to be a mistake! I can’t do construction, I barely know how to use a hammer. So before class started, I quickly rushed to the office and explained that I didn’t even take Manufacturing and Construction. This has to be a mistake! The teacher on the front desk explained, “We unfortunately did not have the materials to form a Robotics class, so all the people that did sign up for this class are now transferred to Construction.” I was scared. I didn’t know anything about construction, I didn't enjoy anything in this field. Now having this set mindset and entering the class, I already had butterflies in my stomach. My self-confidence was suffering and I couldn’t help but feeling incapable throughout the class. I was one of the only girls in this class, and I felt like I just didn’t belong. As days, and then weeks passed by, I slowly adapted being in this class. My self-confidence was still very low considering I never knew what I was doing, but I found ways to enjoy my time in the class. Considering there were more male bodies in the room, I had to also adapt talking to boys. I never really had many male friends, but I really had to begin opening myself up.
From avoiding the class altogether, I slowly began to sit beside a couple of boys and try to join in some conversations. As the days passed by and projects were piling on, I was scared that nobody would be in my group. As I sat by myself, a group of guys came up to me and asked me if I would like to join their group for a software project. I remember having a smile on my face because finally I was making friends, and after such a long time, I was having this feeling of excitement when entering the class. As my group and myself were working towards this mini project, I began to throw some ideas for this project. As I finished saying my idea, the three boys stared at me as if I wash talking in a different language. I felt stupid. Did I say something wrong? I just felt as if they really didn’t want me in their group. Anything that required math or logic related they would make me do it, and everything else I felt like I was unwanted. I began to see continuous patterns of my group leaving me out and just leaving me to do the only thing that I was ‘good’ at. At the end of the day, I knew these people weren’t my close friends so I pushed away my emotions and focused on my marks. One day, as a group of boys and me were just talking about what we wanted to be and our future goals. And everybody was talking, I decided to speak up and said how I wanted to become a Computer Engineer. A guy turned to me laughing saying, “Girls barely know how to use a computer, how are you planning to do that?” Everybody started laughing, and I just remember my heart falling down to my stomach. My confidence fell to the floor. I knew that I was new to the computer field, and I didn’t know too much about coding, but after all these emotions building up inside me and then someone putting me down in a matter of seconds, I felt like I truly didn’t belong in this field. I began to feel that this is why there isn't any women in this field.
That day I went home and I felt this weight on my chest because not only I was now questioning something that I had a passion for, but realized all those “stereotypes” about engineering were true. But being myself, I was trying to ignore my emotions and hold them inside and acting completely normal on the next day of school. That day as I was walking to class, not really wanting to go, the teacher made everyone sit down. I was automatically confused because we never really sit down in this class; we were always doing our own things. He began saying that “I can’t even believe that we are experiencing sexist people in this class. I haven’t had too many girls in this class, but in my 20 years of teaching, I can say with surety that girls are BETTER than men in this field. You may not believe it, but the girls are not only more responsible but are also usually more hardworking than any other group of people.” As the teacher went on to explaining what we as girls are capable of, it really made me realize what I really am. I was questioning something I love because of a stupid guy telling me that girls can’t use computers. I was questioning my capabilities because of someone that knows nothing about me. I realized that day that there will always be people out there that will try to bring you down. There will always be people that think you’re not capable, but if trust yourself and you know the type of person you have grown to be, you have to prove those people wrong. I went home that day, looking at myself in the mirror and seeing what the teacher saw in me; and what I have been seeing in myself.
About the editor:
Dr. Nida Rehmani is the Junior Academy, Global STEM Alliance, NewYork Academy of Sciences. She is the scientific editor for bio-services.org and content editor for Lotus Stories blogs.
Dr. Rehmani completed her B.Sc. & M.Sc. in Biochemistry from Aligarh Muslim University. Her zeal for higher education led her to pursue Ph.D. in molecular biology. Under the auspices of the Obama Singh exchange fellowship, she continued her research in the Department of Radiology, The Ohio State University, USA. During the program, she earned a M.Ed., specialized in STEM higher education.
She is a science communication enthusiast and volunteers for advocating STEM education, especially under-represented communities and minorities. She has a flair for writing & maintains her own personal blog nidarehmani.blogspot.com. She loves cooking and started her own youtube channel: Millenial Recipes. Last but not the least, she is a dedicated mother to an active toddler!
Linkedin: Nida Rehmani