Career Day Re-Engineered

When I overhear my elementary school-aged daughter playing with her friends, she never pretends to be an engineer. As a female engineer, I can't say I'm surprised. But what she does mimic is my excitement for my job, my confidence and my devotion to the science that makes my work so important. The reality is, while my title isn't fancy, it betrays just how interesting my job actually is.

I was encouraged by another woman, my sister in fact, to pursue engineering. I've always been very mindful, for that reason, that simply knowing and being encouraged by another person, another woman, to pursue engineering can have a great impact, as it had on my life and my career.

An important opportunity to put that simple encouragement into practice happened last spring, when I was invited to my daughter's class for career day. I knew that my role as an engineer would be foreign to many of her classmates. Since problem solving is inherent to being an engineer, I was motivated to win their enthusiasm and interest in the profession. Further driven by my own experience, I decided that my brief visit to her classroom should-and could-have an impact.

What I quickly learned--just as I had hoped and suspected--was that engineering and young minds form a special combination. All it often takes for students to become excited is the exposure to something new-the exposure to a world of possibilities they had yet to consider. Add to that the core of what engineering is all about -- inventing, problem solving, creating, etc. --and the response is truly rewarding. In the business of encouraging students to consider a career in engineering, small things can be all it takes to have a big impact.

So what difference did I make on that career day? One girl was very interested in my presentation. Her dad, who it turns out works in the field, contacted me. He told me that he was so delighted that his daughter was hearing about the industry from another person besides him, especially a woman.

On another occasion, a friend's daughter had to interview an engineer for a school project, and she asked me. I talked with her about what I do and about the projects I work on. I encouraged her to consider engineering. She graduated this past June and just started her freshman year at University of Texas at Austin studying... yes, engineering. Her father is also in the field, but I know that it was particularly important for her to be able to identify with a woman in a profession that is dominated by men. And it could not have been easier for me to help, even in a small way, to make that possible.

It is actually that simple. By exposing more young people, especially young women, to engineering as a potential career, we can slowly change the data and increase the numbers of women in engineering. I encourage all of my colleagues to do the same. Commit to a few simple actions each year, and you will be happily surprised by the outcome.

Nancy Choi is an operation engineer at XTO Energy. She holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford University.

Through the support of ExxonMobil, Be An Engineer is a multi-faceted initiative seeking to inspire the next generation of engineers. The program aims to highlight the meaningful contributions that engineers make to the world, as well provide resources to assist young people interested in pursuing the profession.