Finding Confidence and Support Systems: Katie L.

Finding Confidence and Support Systems:
with Katie L, Electrical and Computer Engineering major and Math minor

Persistence, self-confidence – even during struggles -, and learning to both find and be a support system. These are key elements of success and strong themes in Katie’s story.

Katie L. is a junior, studying Electrical and Computer Engineering with a minor in Math. She’s been exploring engineering for a long time, starting with the help of her sixth-grade science teacher. His encouragement was really inspiring to Katie. With her curiosity sparked and an idea in mind, she decided to participate in a science fair. Looking back, she says she could have found the answer to her question with a little online research, but she loved exploring whether or not “different size batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volt) affect the brightness of a lightbulb” on her own. The hands-on project helped her gain experience and discover her passion.

Before she tried working with electricity, she hadn’t considered engineering. She had planned on being an artist or florist. She says that growing up she’d had “a bunch of puppets…each with a different job” like “police officer, firefighter, nurse, etc. and the only women represented were the nurse and teacher” so she thought those careers, were her only options. I love this story, because it reminds me how important it is to show examples of women in STEM fields, as well as the power of an encouraging role model.

Not only has she found people who inspire her, but now she’s also a role model for other students. She loves “talking to female ECE underclassmen, talking to grade school girls, everybody about engineering and my work because I know I can be a role model.” She’s also the only female Electrical and Computer Engineering major in the class of 2019. She says she feels proud of herself for staying in as the only woman and “doing awesome things.” Additionally, she takes the opportunities available to correct any gendered misconceptions on ability and encourage other young women. Despite the challenges, she’s glad she’s stayed involved with this subject because she’s had experiences that made her feel confident about herself. She shared this story about her high school experience, when her class did a review game to prepare for a certification test.

“… we broke into teams of girls versus guys and we smoked the boys. That was the first moment where I felt really strong in that room. I was extremely shy in high school but it was at that moment that I realized I could confidently speak up because guess what? I actually knew the answers.”

In addition to showing her own strength and lifting others up, it’s also important to have a reliable support network. For Katie, a college club called Women in Computing (WinC) can be a space to vent, as well as stay grounded and remind herself of what her classmates are struggling with. As far as women have come in STEM, there’s a long way to go and this is a great environment to meet other female STEM majors and find inspiration. Despite the fact that Katie is the only woman in her class, she’s excited that “as of last spring, there was a woman as the head of every engineering department except ECE.” She feels like progress is being made and that she has people supporting her.

Katie also added that having a support network and friends who encourage her is important for her confidence and sense of belonging.

“Something we talk a fair amount about in WinC is ‘impostor syndrome’ where you feel super unqualified to do what you’re doing. I’m sure it exists everywhere but it’s especially prevalent in women in STEM. There are studies on this that say women make less and aren’t promoted as often because they’re scared to advocate for themselves. I’m slowly starting to try to overcome this.”

Katie has done an amazing job of working hard to fight those feelings, while also helping others to do the same. Everyone can see how capable she is in her field, but sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself of your own skill.

One of my favorite ways to battle imposter syndrome is to focus on more than the just the largest victories. Find the small kernels of success that indicate progress is being made. That can serve as a reminder that, in a learning environment, each person is only competing with herself and show that you are getting the hang of things. These successes can be learning to format your paper, memorizing new formulas, speaking up in class, or feeling good about your study habits. Whatever it is for you, remembering that your work every day is part of your success can help you stay motivated and feel accomplished. Other strategies include learning to embrace praise instead of deflecting it and talking to others about your feelings. These take lots of practice, though! Like Katie explained, it’s a process that begins with recognizing the problem and “slowly starting to try to overcome” the issue.  (To learn more about imposter syndrome, check out “No, You’re Not an Imposter” by Lucas Laursen in Science magazine.)

Finally, Katie reminds us that our challenges teach us confidence and show us how persistent we can be. Following a rough semester of struggling with a class, she says that,

“I’ve learned that I am strong. I have become so much more confident in myself this semester alone. A big part of that confidence has stemmed from passing last semester as well as doing research this past summer.”

As an inspiring and accomplished engineering student, Katie is well on her way. She’s gotten this far by finding the strength and pride in her role, using her support networks, and advocating for herself while learning to battle any feelings of imposter syndrome. Her successes and mistakes have helped her to be confident and deepen her learning.

Katie L., photo credit Clay Wegrzynowicz

Thanks for sharing your story, Katie! To learn more about engineering, check out our role model page and read letters from several types of engineers.


Discussion starters:

What makes you feel proud of yourself?
How does that feel different than or similar to other people being proud of you?
Who encourages and inspires you?
Think of your favorite TV show, games or movies. What careers do you see women most represented in? What careers are missing?


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