Karl Zielinski: Mary, a person with an engineer’s mind should be an engineer. You can’t be a computer the rest of your life.
Mary Jackson: Mr. Zielinski, I’m a negro woman. I’m not gonna entertain the impossible.
Karl Zielinski: And I’m a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp. Now I’m standing beneath a spaceship that’s going to carry an astronaut to the stars. I think we can say we are living the impossible. Let me ask you, if you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer?
Mary Jackson: I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.
The #OrganycUSAuthentic series shares stories of motivated, ambitious women throughout the USA, who overcome obstacles to then give back to the community. In honor of National STEM Day and the thousands of young women currently pursuing studies and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Organyc asked Arianna Brown, currently pursuing a doctorate in Astrophysics at the University of California, Irvine to share her experiences with our readers.
I wasn’t really into fairy tales growing up. Yes, I loved Disney Princess movies, but I also liked SciFi films and any movie with animals in it. I remember loving Shel Silverstein poetry or any book about Science and Art. My mom really worked to stimulate my interest in all areas of life, and I really appreciate that.
I will admit, though, that the “fairy tale” that we are not only “read, but fed,” of having everything figured out by the age of 25 (job security, husband, kids, personal care, etc.) is the one that I struggled to put to bed for a majority of my life. I assumed that my worth was judged by how quickly I could achieve a stable income, get married and pop out a few kids. I also thought that women were exclusively destined to careers in the Humanities and Arts, that we were supposed to only want to hang out with children and babies all day. I felt weird for not cooing at every baby I saw and not wanting to interact with kids at my boyfriend’s family’s parties.
Growing up, I had always loved all things Science and Math. I remember getting little robotic kits and marble mazes to create and spending hours building things and rebuilding them. I was the go-to person my Aunt called to fix kitchen cabinets or computer glitches. These characteristics were always reflected in my academics, as well. I took literally every possible math class I could in high school and was always at the top of the class. For a long time my goal was to become a Math teacher, because female math teachers were the only example of women in STEM that I had. I honestly believed you had to be a rich, old man to be a scientist.
The thing that bugs me now as an adult is that even though I was always in the top 1-5% of the class, my high school teachers or career counselors never encouraged me to join a STEM club or pursue a STEM career.
I realized in my second year of undergrad that I REALLY enjoyed the Advanced Math and Computer Science side of things, but not really the Education part. Once I switched to Mathematics from Math Education in undergrad, losing my full scholarship in the process, the race and gender differences between my peers and me became more obvious, and uncomfortable interactions began to skyrocket. Constantly asked if I was in the wrong classroom, repeatedly told I didn’t “look” like a math major, I actually had professors accuse me of cheating, simply because I had the best test score in class and didn’t “look the part”.