True Confession: Sometimes I wish I had become an artist or a scientist.
Technically, I practice the art form of teaching, and I engineer units of study. Hah! In all honesty, doodling is great fun and I have a wonderful relationship with crayons and coloring books, but I have yet to pick up a paint brush and turn a blank canvas into something awe inspiring. I cannot say that I invested much time over the years in developing any artistic talents beyond dancing, however, I admire those who can bring what they envision to life with their own hands. Perhaps it’s time for me to sign up for one of those BYOB painting classes.
On the science front, I played with K’Nex as a kid. However, thirty minutes into my building project, my mind would wander off to the plot of my Babysitter’s Club book of the week, or I’d be randomly inspired to write a short story. Next, I’d be reprimanded for having abandoned K’Nex pieces all over the den. Oh to be 7 years old again!
My mother worked as a chemical technician at an energy company for thirty years. Her brain was hard wired for math and science and she shared that enthusiasm with me through cooking and baking at home. When it came to school work, she was my number one cheerleader through my struggles with math, and each year when the elementary school-wide science fair came around. There wasn’t a poster board that was too expensive nor trip to Home Depot that could inconvenience her. She encouraged me to attend every science based overnight trip offered in junior high: Caumset State Park, Taconic State Park, and Space Camp. In high school, I spent three years in the science research program working on how how the various components of light (color, intensity, duration, and direction) affect the growth and the development of plant seedlings. Once upon a time I thought that I would become a botanist… until I started learning French during senior year. The rest is history.
I declared my double major in French and Spanish language and literature during the spring semester of my freshman year. I hope they’ve stopped telling undeclared freshmen that they have time to figure it all out. The reality of the college undergrad hustle is that you have to decide what you’re going to study EARLY. All of that “take time to find yourself” rhetoric is a ploy to keep unsuspecting students wasting time and money by taking classes that may not fulfill the prerequisites for the major that they ultimately choose. Being undeclared and floating through the liberal arts college at a university is potentially a career death sentence. What if your grades aren’t good enough to switch over to the nursing, business, or engineering school? You’ll be stuck. What if you can’t get into the prerequisite courses that you need in the semester that they’re offered? You’ll be adding another semester of debt to that Sallie Mae bill. Even if I had been curious about science and engineering courses while in college, I couldn’t gamble with my GPA nor the meticulously scheduled coursework for my degree in order to satiate that interest. Now, 6 years after having finished my undergraduate studies and 6 weeks away from completing my second master’s degree, I wonder if there could have been a way for me to study both romance languages and science. Did I really have to forgo science for the humanities? My 17 year old self couldn’t conceive of a way to feasibly connect the two disciplines and neither did the “academic advisor” at my university.
I’m a definitely a fan of the whole women and girls in STEM movement, but this wave came along well after I started surfing on a totally different beach. Would I buy Goldie Blox or Roominate for my daughter in the future? Sure. I hope to encourage her to explore a variety of interests before she locks into one field. I am thankful for my mother’s influence although I seriously followed in my language professor father’s footsteps. I’m sure there’s a multilingual, art and theatre loving, scientist-engineer out there changing the game. It’s just not me.
This post was inspired by Bran Ferren’s TED talk. Ferren is the former President of Research and Development of Walt Disney Imagineering. He is the son of two abstract expressionist artists, who taught him that art is about communicating ideas, not just decoration. His grandfather was a cabinet-making factory owner, who often took him on field trips to buy electronics to take a apart and reassemble. At the age of 9, he visited the Pantheon during a trip to Rome that blew his mind; it was the perfect blend of art and visionary engineering. “The ingredients for the next Pantheons are all around us, waiting for visionary people with multidisciplinary skills to make them,” says Ferren. “These people don’t spontaneously pop into existence, they need to be nurtured. Just as my grandpa did, and just as my parents did, we need to encourage [kids] to find their own path, even if it is very different from our own.”
I love the path I’m on… but I just wonder sometimes. I’m sure you all do too.