By Emily Bautista
As my excitement about math, science, problem solving and teamwork became more pronounced in middle school, I decided I wanted become an engineer. Before then, I was never one of those girls who drew themselves as singers or nurses, I just drew nothing because I felt like everything I saw around me wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what was out there, and that’s ok. Sometimes I feel we put such pressure on young students to pick a career path, always asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” instead of something like, “What do you really enjoy doing?” So to all you girls and guys out there, don’t sweat it, opportunities will arise to show you the way. It’s ok not to know, just follow what you love.
While in high school, I had the opportunity to perform student research, and looking back, that is where I developed a keen interest in materials. I believe the combination of chemistry based understanding and mechanical behavior analysis is more than enough to draw anyone in. Coupled with the innovation only found in materials science, this major has opened new doors for me in many ways, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the faculty and support at Virginia Tech.
Our department is pretty small (and so is almost every Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) department in US colleges and universities) but that’s part of why I love MSE. I typically am in core classes with the same group of students and so not only do I get to know the professors really well, but also my fellow peers. Moreover, at Virginia Tech, MSE is just fun. We get to show young students materials that look like magic: Oobleck (non-Newtonian fluid), shape memory wire, polymer beads that “disappear” in water, floating magnets (superconductors) and so much more. I am even the team lead for a Bladesmithing design team, which allowed me to have hands on, applicable experience in forging (banging hot metal with a hammer by a fire), something I never thought I would be doing! Materials are so broad that once you learn the basics of all of the categories, metals, polymers, ceramics, you can do almost anything with the degree. I have worked in automotive, aerospace, industrial and research fields in the past 4 years alone! When you think about it, everything around you is made of some material right? Odds are they could use a materials engineer to make it better.
Beyond my major, I am also the president of the Virginia Tech section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I have been involved since my freshman year and SWE has been my life line. It has given me the opportunity to meet fantastic women engineers, both other students and professional members, who have inspired me to continually challenge myself. I think that is my favorite part about SWE, that it extends from elementary school with SWENext all the way to your professional career, supporting you the whole time. Sometimes it can be tough to be the only women in the room in your classes or while work, and being surrounded by a roomful of women engineers at SWE meetings helps bring some balance to the equation. Our SWE section hosts professional, community outreach, educational outreach, and social events and also has a few initiatives such as starting a SWENext group at a local high school, giving a freshman member a small scholarship each year and sending students to the WE conference. I am also spearheading a new program where we will take a small group of students to Malawi to do a week of female STEM outreach with grassroots organizations! This just goes to say that you can do anything with SWE. If you have an idea of how to help advance diversity within STEM, I am sure a SWE section is more than happy to hear you out!
As engineers, we are the builders of the future, and the fixers of the past. In order to do so, we have to learn and understand the world around us, and how things and people work. This constant drive to learn and understand is what I knew would satiate my own curiosity. Though there is still much to learn, I know that I have the power to change the world around me as an engineer. As a graduate, I hope to make a difference not only as a woman in this field, but through the positivity and ingenuity that I bring to the table every day.
If you also have similar passions, I encourage you to give engineering a chance. Moreover, engineering isn’t just for “smart” people. Anyone can be an engineer if they have the drive to succeed and overall are interested in what they are pursuing! I am not going to lie, at times, it can be very challenging both academically and personally, but now that I can see the light at the end of my colleigate tunnel, I know it was always well worth it!
Check out Emily’s video promoting SWE’s Annual Conference and this year’s theme: Let’s Break Boundaries.