Photo by Kirsten Reynolds

I’ve raised my hand and asked a question in a computer engineering lecture only once. I asked if a bus (a wire) on a schematic was serial or parallel.

I don’t even remember what the answer was. But it was winter time, and I could hear my classmates’ jackets rubbing loudly against the fabric back of the lecture hall chairs as they turned, in unison, to look at me.

The way I speak is kind of like Laguna Beach meets Elle Woods. Honestly, most college girls I know speak this way.

But in computer engineering, my valley girl accent is shocking. I am automatically labeled as stupid the second I open my mouth. It might not be fair and you might not want to believe it, but you just can’t argue that the concepts of “valley girl” and “academia” fit together nicely.

Being stared at while asking a question sounds like a pretty stupid roadblock compared to other students’ problems.

But it’s indicative of a larger problem for me and my success at Georgia Tech. Because if I ask a stupid question, and everyone turns around to look, then now I’m the stupid girl asking the stupid question.

And because I’m probably one of the only very feminine girls in the class, I perpetuate the stereotype that girls don’t belong in computer engineering — that same stereotype that subtly pushes girls out of ECE in the first place.

I’m not going to give a suggestion on ways to push fewer girls out. I honestly don’t know.

My message actually isn’t to the university, it’s to employers. As I start the search for my full-time job, my experience with career recruitment has been very
numerical.

Career fairs sought to compare candidate by GPA, and I didn’t qualify for many interviews because mine isn’t great. I wouldn’t say I’m a poor student, but I wanted to get out as fast as possible, so I took as many classes that my body could physically handle each semester, and I ended up with mediocre grades.

I was surprised by employers quantifying me because, even though I’m an average student, I was a great intern. Being in CompE taught me how to be firm and, even though I had clearly just turned 20, I managed my projects like a full-time employee.

To me, my desirability to employers is reflected in my accomplishments from work: my completed projects, published writing, and the magnitude of the work my company trusted me to take on. Having my accomplishments, personality and drive ignored because of a number – my grade point average – doesn’t actually offend me as much as it baffles me.

That said, my message to employers is this: if you want to find a “trail blazer”, an “innovator”, a “disruptor”, someone with “drive”, then recruit a female engineer. GPA aside, there is no one more driven than the person who perseveres adversity to pursue their passion. No disruptor abides by the status quo. No one would blaze a trail unless they’re willing to stick out.

Ultimately, if you want to grab the world’s attention, start with the girl who causes the entire room to stare as soon as she opens her mouth.

  • Mary Ann Burney Allen

    I’ve been where you are (even computer science back when it was ICS). My GPA was not great and it kept me from a lot of jobs I might have been great for in large companies. I found that smaller companies can be more forgiving over a GPA because they are looking for qualified folks. Now you might have to settle for a smaller starting salary. But stick it out. Usually after a few years you can look for a job with employers that are not as concerned about your GPA than they are about your work experience. And think out of the box for a career. I spent 20 years doing computer training. Loved it. Now I’m doing something completely different. And no one EVER asks about my GPA, but they ARE impressed that I have a degree from Georgia Tech.