Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ride, Sally!

I was in my final year of college and was schlepping through the Engineering Center when I walked passed one of my professor's offices.  I noticed some people and an unusual bustle of activity going on in there as I traveled down the hallway.  Then I overheard my professor say, "Hey, you wanna girl in the picture?"

Next, he poked his head into the hallway, "Hey Abby, will you c'mere for a minute?"

Turns out there was some trade magazine there to do an article about my professor and some new equipment he'd successfully acquired for the university through a grant.  Of course, they wanted to include photos of him - a bit of a "celebrity" in the world of manufacturing - and were setting up when I walked passed.

The photo shoot came to include the professor, the equipment, and a girl.  Check out the state-of-the-art technology!  Ignore the 80's hair...

Obscurely famous professor and a girl

Magnum and I still laugh about that episode.  How my prof didn't say,"Hey, you wanna engineering student in the picture?"   Nope, I knew why I'd been chosen. It was a way to say, "Look how trendy we are - robotic stuff and girl students!"  My ethnic look probably didn't hurt either.

Shortly after that, I was out in the working girl world and once again was asked to be a girl in a picture. This time, for a company recruiting brochure.  I went to the designated area that was set up to look like one of our typical cubicles.  I sat at the table with Marvin, pretending to analyze a drawing, while the photographer took pretty pictures.

Marvin was a black guy.

We both knew why we'd been chosen.  It was a way to say, "Look how trendy we are - black and female engineers!"  We were also both relatively young at the time.  I still remember how we were actually joking about that "assignment" while the cameras clicked.

I've never been one to "soapbox" about more girls joining the STEM professions.  While I'm certainly happy for anyone who wants to join in, I don't see it as a gender issue.  Like any other field, it should be chosen because of an inherent interest.  I ended up "retiring" to the mommy track.  Do I regret that decision?  Not one bit.  Do I miss being an employed engineer?  Absolutely.

Yesterday, when I learned of Sally Ride's death, I was a bit sad.  She became the first US woman astronaut at about the same time I graduated high school.  I was also surprised to learn that she'd had pancreatic cancer.  I guess I wasn't the only one.  Despite here noted achievements, she was not in the limelight much.  Her choice apparently.  I'm sure she got tired of being asked so often about her femaleness.

Still, I hope she knows that she inspired many.  Rest In Peace, Sally Ride.


terri said...

I really wanted Kacey to look into those fields that are still mainly populated by males. She had the aptitude and much encouragement from her high school teachers. I saw open doors and opportunity for her. But she didn't have the interest. I hope those who have followed in Sally Ride's footsteps will continue to inspire girls to strive for bigger things.

agg79 said...

As an engineer from back in the 80's I agree with you. I was a big fan of Sally Ride back when got her shot on STS-7. I still feel she opened the door for a lot of people into that arena. I am truly saddened by her passing. Rest in Peace, Sally. The stars shine brighter for your journey.

ShadowRun300 said...

Sally Ride was definitely an inspiration. I totally went into the "girl" career - teacher, then stay-at-home mom. I think my daughter has the confidence to strive for bigger things, though, so I'm happy that there have been women out there who have set the stage for her.
Nice of you to pay tribute to her!
P.S. Love the 80's hair. Had it myself. ;)

Scott said...


Very good picture of you, by the way.

Rock Chef said...

That is a great picture - and your hair is pretty good for the time, could have been far worse!

Yes, people should follow their interests - it is what we tell our kids. Too many end up with degrees in things they have no interest in and working in jobs they hate.

Adrienne said...

I love this post. It's so true. We must understand why we're being chosen, but not let the preconceptions of others limit our pursuit of excellence.

Rebecca S. said...

Your frank honesty is refreshing...but your hair looks fine to me:) I didn't know about Sally Ride. I find it interesting that people who are really great at their jobs have a way of transcending that male/female, black/white thing. They simply become known for their contribution. I find that one of the more satisfying things in a life full of contradictions.

LL Cool Joe said...

That's a cool shot of you. Oh please don't start me on gender stereotypes, or I'll be writing this comment all day. :D