Lakshitha Rajendran, a junior studying chemical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, took the inaugural Buildium Women in Technology Scholarship prize with this winning essay
“Charles Babbage!” I exclaimed. Curious expressions and puzzled faces stared back at me.
Ten minutes ago, I had just sat down at my first meeting of the Society of Women Engineers, excited to be surrounded by ambitious and driven women like myself. “Hello everyone!” said the President, “Welcome to the first Society of Women Engineers meeting of the semester. It is wonderful to meet fellow women who are pursuing their dreams, even in fields where we are a minority. To start off, I would like each new member to briefly tell us what inspired them to pursue technology.”
I listened as one of the girls described being inspired by her love of Legos and another described being influenced by an encouraging math teacher. When it was my turn, I stood up and said, “Charles Babbage.”
Yes, you heard me right – Charles Babbage, a mathematician, an engineer, an inventor and a man inspired my love for technology. At this moment, you are probably wondering why I am so enthusiastically about to describe how a male inventor inspired me to go into technology. It is ironic and seems to almost defeat the purpose seeing that I am writing for a scholarship aimed at women in technology. But let me explain.
Growing up, I had an obsession with computers and their invention. At the age of nine, I learned about Charles Babbage, considered a “father of the computer” and I was fascinated. Here was a person who so many years ago laid a foundation for one of the most extraordinary inventions that has now become an essential part of our lives. The fact that an ordinary person created something so amazing excites me, even to this day. It inspired me and made me dream of one day creating something so revolutionary, and thus started my appreciation of science and technology.
As I progressed through high school, I began to discover my love for all things chemistry and math. I realized I had an aptitude for problem solving and design. I loved the thrill of writing a software code, I loved carrying out experiments in lab and I loved being able to solve a difficult math problem. When I discovered chemical engineering and all the possibilities that it offered, I knew immediately that it was the perfect career for me.
Now you may ask why at this point, I didn’t stop and like so many women dismiss a future in science as inappropriate for a female. Why did I not stop and say to myself, “The only reason Charles Babbage achieved so much was because he was a man.” What inspired me to keep going?
Here’s my secret – nothing. Nothing inspired me to keep going. The truth is, I didn’t know that engineering was a man’s profession. Call me naive, maybe even sheltered but at no point in my life had someone told me that women were not supposed to be scientists. No one told me that as a woman I couldn’t enjoy problem solving, coding or design. I just didn’t know. And so, I never stopped to doubt my talents. The decision to follow my dream was an easy one.
And there we have it – a simple truth. If girls were told they were good enough growing up, if they weren’t fed gender stereotypes, if they weren’t told they should be pretty, play with dolls and leave the “tough jobs” to men, I suspect we would have a lot more females in technology. If like me, they had grown up completely unaware of the misguided notions that “computers are for boys” then like me, being a woman would have not been relevant to their career choice.
I recently read about a study that showed that if told that men score better in math tests than women, women tend to score worse. When they were not told anything, both genders scored equal on average. It made me wonder whether I would have still chosen to become an engineer had I grown up hearing that women cannot do math. It also made me grateful, because I realized that my childhood ignorance possibly led to one of the best decisions of my life. Even as I sit in classes with an overwhelming majority of men, I am thankful that my lack of knowledge allowed me to look at a male inventor and be inspired to become a chemical engineer.
Now in my third year, at the University of Cincinnati, I am well aware of the painful lack of women in STEM fields, but it has not discouraged me because I also see first-hand evidence every day that being a woman has nothing to do with success. I know that while the road so far has been difficult and I have had to work harder than I ever have before, so does every other male engineering student!
Although Charles Babbage was my first exposure to engineering, many women engineers have inspired me along the way too. My female idols have ranged from Ada Lovelace often described as the world’s first computer programmer to Debbie Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox, a toy company aimed at inspiring the next generation of female engineers. But they inspired me because of their creative ideas, their willingness to take risks and their contributions to technology, not because they did it all “despite being a woman.”
So yes, Charles Babbage and his work on the Analytical Engine inspired and still continues to inspire my passion and dream to become a chemical engineer. On a completely irrelevant side note – he was a man.
Interested in applying for the Spring 2015 Buildium Women in Technology Scholarship? Please read the complete instructions and eligibility requirements first.
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Using a previous scholarship essay contest we hosted, where our judges received more than 4,000 essays, we noticed some frequent mistakes students make that can instantly disqualify you from an essay contest.
We thought to ourselves, "Hello, learning opportunity!
Here, an example of what NOT to do in an essay – and some tips on making yourself a better candidate for scholarship cash.
Here’s one of the essays we received for a previous scholarship contest, to help you learn the do’s and don’ts of essay writing:
“To be able to hold onto your money you have to know how to manage it. Money management is a complicated process. As teenagers we often have no idea how to manage money and we end up wasting a lot of it. But in a bad economy most of us have had a crash course in what happens when you don’t manage your money properly. We have had to delve into a world foreign and unfamiliar to us and solve our own money problems. The most successful of us have managed to still have some semblance of a social life without going over our small budgets. The keys to doing this successfully are actually quite simple.
Set up your own budget of expenses. Teenagers may not have to worry about paying a mortgage or rent but we do have to be able to pay for gas, insurance for our vehicles, and the never ending list of project expenses and supplies for classes. So you have to sit down and balance what you spend in a month with what you actually make, and whether that’s the money you get for your birthday that you manage to stretch with help from mom’s pocketbook or it’s the minimum wage that you get from the local fast food joint where you have managed to find employment the money comes from somewhere and it needs to be written down.
Review your expenses daily. This includes balancing your checkbook and reviewing your online statements, as well as calculating any emergency expenses that you were not considering. This needs to be fluid as sometimes things come up that you just couldn’t have forseen.
You have to get creative. You are not always going to have the time to sit there with a calculator crunching numbers so create small ways to keep thing balanced without having to. Send yourself easy phone reminders about a few of your expenses. Always bring your school id with you because a lot of places will give students discounted rates. And finally, just remember where your money is going it will help.”
So, what was wrong and what was right?
One thing the essay writer did correctly was to stay within the word count for the contest.
The essay contest stated within the rules that essays should range from 250-350 words and this essay comes in at 349 words. Good job!
Another positive is that the writer stayed on topic and answered the question that was presented.
However, even though the writer did stay on topic, the response took a meandering approach and didn’t take a strong or memorable stance. In short, the “meat” of the essay wasn’t there. Think of it this way: sum up in one sentence what you want the reviewer to know and remember after reading your essay. Did you get that across in a clear and concise way?
Each essay should get across at least one breakout idea (aka, the thesis statement) and the rest of the essay should focus on selling that point. If it’s a new, creative or off-beat idea, focus on selling and explaining that. If it’s a common idea, focus on trying to say it better than anyone else.
Here are a few more examples of what the essay writer did wrong:
Misspellings are the fastest way to ensure an essay is disqualified. When combing through a stack of essays, a judge will first rule out the essays with simple misspellings. Long story short: run a spell check and have someone else you trust look over it. It’s always best to get a second set of eyes.
Incomplete sentences – Remember, each sentence should have a subject (someone or something) and a verb (action). Wondering if your sentence is complete? Here’s a hint: A complete sentence tells a complete thought.
No capitalization –
it’s bad enough not to capitalize words at the beginning of a sentence, but at the beginning of a paragraph it stands out even more! Yikes!
Missing punctuation –
In this example, the writer does not have proper command over the use of commas — namely they are missing in places they should have been added and added places they are not required.
Poor grammar and sentences that don’t make sense –
The essay writer uses poor word choices, improper grammar and mistakes such as having too many spaces between words. Another example of poor grammar is the confusion of grammatical persons — in the beginning of the essay the writer uses the first person plural (we) and toward the end, the writer uses the second person (you).
Run-on sentences –
In this essay, one sentence has 72 words. As a rule, try to keep sentences no longer than 35 words each.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you write an essay. Remember, you don’t want to give the judges any reason to disqualify your essay right off the bat.
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