The Double Life of an Engineer in a Sorority

Everyone always asks me how I do it, how am I able to meet the time commitment of a sorority while having a fully consuming major like mechanical engineering? Honestly, I do not think I could have been successful in engineering without being in a sorority as well.

Confidence is the key to success, and one of the best ways to maintain confidence is by surrounding yourself with confident women. Having a community of girls at my back always empowered me. Even if I felt different from the other students in my major, being part of a community of passionate women working toward their goals gave me a community where I felt like I belonged. When I was feeling out of place in class, I remembered that I was one of many in a large group of women all in our own majors, but we were all working extremely hard to follow our passions and make our marks on this world.  

As a female engineer, when I walk into a classroom I do not look like anyone else in the room. The room is filled with the vast majority of students being male. I am also an extremely extroverted person, which is not typical of an engineer. It is easy to feel out of place when you walk into a room and everyone stares at you, because you do not look like you belong there. When you are struggling in your classes, it is even easier to doubt whether you belong. Most students struggle with engineering classes, but a lot of students do not talk about it, so for a while I genuinely believed I was alone in my struggles.

To be successful in engineering, you really need to study with other people. If you understand one section of the test material but are struggling to understand another section, there is typically someone who can teach you the knowledge you are lacking and you can do the same for them. Even if none of you understands how to solve a thermodynamics problem, there is a much better chance of you figuring out the problem by combining your brains than if you tried to solve the problem alone. Living in the dorms freshman year, I caught bronchitis, mono, pneumonia, pink eye, and every virus you can catch. This means I missed a lot of school and was left teaching myself weeks’ worth of missed material. It also meant that I was unable to find study groups or friends in my classes. This really hurt my grades and my confidence as a student, and I seriously doubted if I was capable of the technical work I had been dreaming of my whole life.

At times, I felt like I was living a double life, neither of which I belonged in fully. One version of myself spent every day in the library or class, standing out for looking different and for being extroverted. Meanwhile at sorority functions, I pulled up past dynamics homework problems on my phone to review while I chatted with girls and involuntarily blurted out all kinds of nerdy commentary. Over time, I came to accept the unique breed of girl that I am, and embrace both the nerdy and extroverted aspects of my identity. Being an engineer and a sister showed me that I can be anything I want, regardless of stereotypes.

What got me through all the late nights in the library were the sisters who were up late studying in the library as well. I owe a lot of my success to the girls who brought me milkshakes while I was studying, or reminded me of my intelligence when I was frustrated. My sisters are some of the most passionate girls in the world, and taking a study break to chat about our goals reinvigorated me and reminded me of how much I love engineering, even when close to giving up.

I finally gained my confidence back as a mechanical engineer my junior year. The guys in my classes finally realized I was just like them, I just had to show them how big of a nerd I really am if you look deeper than my sorority stickers and long curly hair. I now have the respect of my classmates, as I became recognized in the library often and many of the guys seek out my color-coded study guides. I developed study groups for all my classes and realized how much I love everyone in my major. I soon accepted internships and other opportunities where I was able to test the level of technical work I was capable of, and I realized how much I could do with my brain and my coursework if I just believed in myself. Gaining best friends in engineering and best friends in my sisterhood completed me.

The unique aspect of being in a sorority at Virginia Tech is that your sorority typically does not fall under most stereotypes, and is just an empowering group of young women navigating college together. My sorority offers me a support system in college and a group of girls to turn to when I need someone to lean on. These girls lifted me up and inspired me through their own motivation and hard work, and played an important role in my success as a mechanical engineer.

 

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