A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of my third-grade teacher and her influence on my aspirations. She predicted that I would be President of the United States. As I have written about previously, while her aspirations for me helped me leave home for University, I did not pursue a pathway to political dominance. I couldn’t. From my own standpoint, I did not know any woman who was a leader in my small rural town. How could I have imagined being President ‘of the free world’ (as it was often said in Texas at the time) when I did not know a female business owner, or female Principal, or any female head of anything? You can only be what you can see.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that I wound up studying to be an English teacher with my full scholarship. What else would I have done? The only women I knew with a degree were my teachers.
Last week I met with one of our fantastic female rural students. She is smart, articulate, organised, has an extraordinary work ethic and is determined. A science student who loves maths, she came to university to follow an engineering pathway. However, in her first semester, she was very intimidated that she was one of the few women in her classes. She decided that she would drop the engineering pathway, despite doing well in everything. She didn’t know any female engineers, she reasoned to herself, so she needed to rethink her path. Fast forward to her third year and she has recently met a few female engineers. Through discussion with me, she decided that she would find out what she had to do to reopen this option. It is only two more subjects. We were excited together to dream of what she can do now to apply for the Master of Engineering.
Last night, we were blessed at the College to have several speakers for our students at the Arts and Science dinner. Each speaker shared their stories of how they got where they were today, the pathway that they took and what they have learned on the journey. A female alumna spoke of her indirect and brave pathway to being a psychologist; a Dean of Arts spoke of his path to academia and educational leadership even though he was the first person in his family to go to university. A female alumna spoke of her journey to hold international roles in senior leadership in leading oil companies. All the while I sat through their very generous stories, I was struck with the power they were sharing with our students: they were powerful influencers on every one of our students’ futures. They were showing a pathway so that it could be followed.