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Dear Amy,

I am currently a 16 year old junior in high school that has started the whole college application process, but before I can get a good grasp about where I want to go I have to narrow down my interests.

My problem is that I want to pursue a career in science, maybe become an engineer, but my focus keeps changing and on top of that my lack of confidence in those subjects make them hard to pursue. I have genuine interesting in the subjects, but it seems that throughout my entire high school career I have been deterred from pursuing them. I was forced to repeat Algebra I in 8th grade after getting into it as a 7th grader because my 'self esteem wasn't high enough' according to my math teacher (even though my grades were low A's and B+'s). My teacher didn't make any effort at all to try and help my esteem when I repeated the course, and I just had to face the humiliation of staying back by enduring the other student's talking about me behind my back. But I've gotten past that hurtle in math and have worked my way to the highest math courses that my school offers.

However, in class I just listen and observe to learn instead to actively participating because I don't have enough faith in my answers, even though I know I have good math ability. Of course my teacher isn't very supportive, and relies on intensely structured classes that just further intimidate me. I also feel that my school doesn't have an adequate science program, and that it would not prepare me enough for more intense college programs. I enjoy science, and am curious about everything in my environment around me that I want to learn more about. But I was deterred from taking an advanced Chemistry course this year because my teacher didn't know what he was talking about, and on top of that had sexually harassed other women in my class. My school's only reason for not firing him is because they can't get another chemistry teacher, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in the world. I wasn't about to put myself in an unproductive and potentially dangerous learning environment like that, but at the same time I regret that it has hurt my future in a science field by not taking advantage of the opportunity.

My English teacher is putting pressure on me to take more literature courses, which I don't mind, but I since I'm so confused about what I want to do it makes it hard for me to be sure about anything. I know that most people lack direction about what they want to do, especially at my age, but I'm afraid of making the wrong decision.

I was wondering if you could offer any advice to me (even though I know the decision ultimately depends on me). Do you know any resources about interested high school women like me who want to pursue careers in science and technology that might give me some more confidence in my abilities? I know that I shouldn't feel inferior, but sometimes I just do for no reason at all, but I've talked to peers who have had the same experiences as me....Thank you for your time!



Dear Aimee,

At 32, I can say that that confusion doesn't always dissipate, but at a certain moment you just realize that you are on a certain path. Throughout my junior and senior high school career and into college, I pursued and excelled at math and sciences -- and like you I had to face the constant questioning of my interest. In my senior year I took physics honors and was the only girl in the class and was constantly dissuaded from pursuing it -- the teacher kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to stick with it -- and I did and even eventually won the physics honors award. So, I'm glad that I got to prove him wrong. I certainly think that you should stick with it, but that's my bias, because I'm sometimes angry that I didn't stick with it. There are now several programs specifically designated for girls and women who want to pursue engineering paths and/or non-traditionally female classes. For instance, Smith College has a women's engineering school -- and there are two high schools in CA that focus on engineering and sciences and are solely for girls. So you certainly aren't the only person who is exploring this. I suggest that you look at the Smith program as they also offer summer programs for high school students. I hope that helps lead you in the right direction and selfishly, I hope that you stick with it.

Good luck,

-- Amy


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