Written by Emily Liptow, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Program for Engineering Excellence for Partner Schools
By the time I was in my last year at Ohio State University, I was questioning myself about whether or not engineering was the best choice for me. I enjoyed most of my engineering classes and did well, but I found myself increasingly uninterested in the opportunities that were presented to me as a soon-to-be graduate. I had lost touch with why I chose engineering in the first place; my heart was not in it. This was not how I wanted to feel during my last few months of college, but I knew I wasn’t alone in my pre-graduation-what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life crisis.
As I reflected on how I had gotten here in the first place, I remembered how supportive my teachers, family, and guidance counselors were in my choice to study engineering. I was fortunate to have opportunities to take calculus, physics, computer science, and even an intro engineering course in high school. This exposure to a variety of STEM fields and my support network empowered me to choose to study engineering in college, and at the time, I was excited!
When it came to choosing my major, I was specifically drawn to Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) for it’s breadth, and I liked that it was centered around the intersection of people, information, money, time, and materials. I tend to think big picture, and so I really liked the systems approach to problem solving that is at the core of ISE.
While my engineering coursework kept me busy, I was eager to pursue other interests and passions of mine. I was very involved with social justice, diversity, and inclusion initiatives throughout my four years at Ohio State. I took some extra sociology courses, and I led a student organization that promoted diversity and inclusion through dialogue. I was also involved with student life and served as a resident advisor for two years.
I enjoyed my engineering classes and my involvement with social justice, but my work in these two spaces rarely intersected. Looking back to my senior year, I think it was this disconnect between my engineering and social justice worlds that led me to question my decision to study engineering. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to pursue my passion for social justice by working as an engineer. And it was this feeling that drove me to look into some “alternative” post-graduate opportunities—one of which was serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
When I came across the CSU STEM VISTA program, it seemed like a great fusion of my experiences with engineering and social justice. The program’s mission to support traditionally underrepresented students in STEM was something I could relate to as a woman in engineering and as someone who cares deeply about justice and equality. The CSU STEM VISTA program sounded like a great learning and growing opportunity for me, so I applied.
Fast forward to today, I am serving as a VISTA at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Since the start of my VISTA year this past July, I have already learned so much about STEM, higher education, and social justice. And perhaps most exciting—my enthusiasm for engineering has been reignited! I have been re-inspired by the incredible faculty and staff at Cal Poly who are doing great work within the STEM and social justice worlds.
A lot (or most) of the work that engineers do is inherently connected to politics, public welfare, the environment, ethics, and social justice issues. My experience at Cal Poly has given me time to reflect on my engineering education and make new connections between engineering and these other important topics that I care about.
I am still experiencing the what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life dilemma, but I am in a much better place with all the resources and support that I have through the CSU STEM VISTA program. I am excited to see where this year will take me!