THE BEGINNING OF A COLLEGE CAREER IS A TIME OF NEW CHALLENGES AND TOUGH CHOICES. HOW TO DECIDE ON THE BEST COURSE OF STUDY THAT WILL REWARD A STUDENT WITH THE BEST CAREER OPPORTUNITIES AND FULFILLMENT CAN ADD A LOT OF PRESSURE TO AN ALREADY STRESSED STUDENT. AS A YOUNG WOMEN, DO YOU PLAY IT SAFE AND STAY WITHIN THE TRADITIONAL ACADEMIC ROLES OR DO YOU ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE AND DELVE INTO FIELDS ONCE DOMINATED BY MEN? THE FIELDS OF STEAM WERE ONCE JUST THAT, BUT TREMENDOUS PROGRESS IS BEING MADE AND WE ARE SEEING MORE AND MORE GIRLS ACTIVE IN THESE AREAS OF STUDY. EMMA GNATOWSKI, A POTOMAC FALLS RESIDENT AND SECOND YEAR STUDENT AT VIRGINIA TECH, GAVE US A LITTLE INSIGHT ON HER DECISION TO ADD TO THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF WOMEN IN STEAM.
After completing my first year at Virginia Tech, my first taste of being a science major made me realize that my abilities to succeed in the sciences as a young woman are endless. I began with basic biology and chemistry, the foundations of my major: neuroscience. I wasn’t always the neuroscience geek that reads books about the brain for fun. For the longest time, I was dead set on pursuing music in college. What teenager doesn’t dream of being a rock star?
While science may not have always been what I wanted then, it was always somehow a part of my life. Growing up, my middle school years were filled with the annual science fair, a staple of my science education. At that point in my life, I had no interest in pH or magnets, let alone the chemical basis of brain function. During those days, my dad would always say, “You may not want anything to do with science, but science wants everything to do with you,” and years later, that quote lives fresh in my mind. A few years would pass until I came around to my junior year of high school. I finally had the opportunity to choose some cool electives to explore, so I decided on AP psychology. Immediately, I fell in love and became fascinated by what made people tick. The idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was beginning to slowly change. But I still couldn’t let go of my dreams of pursuing music. The struggles I had in thinking about my future ended when my dad gave me a book called Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. It combined the two things I loved with in my grade school career: music and the brain. And that’s when it clicked for me: music could be a part of a career as a scientist.
To really test how I felt about science, I signed up for an Independent Science Research course my senior year that was offered through George Mason University. In this class, I developed my own project, testing drug patches, to compete in Loudoun County’s Regional Science and Engineering Fair. Taking that class helped me to understand that science is just as creative as making art or music.
Come the beginning of the fall semester, I will begin working in a professor’s lab on campus as an undergraduate researcher. Half of the reason I have the opportunities that I have now are due to my successes in high school, such as doing well on my AP exams or having created my own research project. But the rest of my success I owe to my parents because their love and support has allowed me to explore the world around me. While I’m still debating whether or not I want to pursue medical research or clinical practice, a postundergraduate education will be the next step in my personal journey through the STEM world.
My advice to moms with daughters would be to encourage them to explore their interests, regardless of what they may be, and let them know that they can do anything they set their minds to.