Remember that feeling when you were in elementary school, and you went on that field trip to where the big kids went to school? I do. I remember looking up at so many people who were so much bigger than me, all talking about how cute I was (I was dressed as a computer… it was Halloween at the time,) and they all seemed so much older and more knowledgeable than I was. I imagined that they must be taking mechanical engineering classes, and learning how to build car engines – what I wanted to do when I was that age – and that they must have known so much math that I hadn’t even seen yet. Well about 14 years later, I’m the big kid. Last Wednesday, at 10:35 in the morning, I was sitting in my very first class at McGill University. It was hot, I was dripping with sweat, and I had a feeling that I was in the wrong class, for the simple reason that about half (or more) of the class was female, which seemed like way too large a fraction for a class in the engineering department. (Note: this is not a sexist remark, but merely an observation of fact. Women are fully capable of performing as well or better than men in engineering, but only 23% of my class is female. This is a damned shame, because I imagine that there are plenty of women in other programs who would find engineering fascinating.) It turns out that my class had been moved one floor below, and I was, indeed, in the wrong room.
The day went on, and I had a great time. I’ve only had three days of classes in university, but I love it already. On Friday, however, as I walked to my first class, I passed a group of elementary school kids, about the same age as I had been, walking to McGill, presumably for a tour of the campus. Although none of them were dressed as computers (alas, it’s only September,) seeing them reminded me that I had been in their place so many years ago; they are at the very beginning of the voyage that I’ve been on for most of my life. I’m an adult and thinking about moving out of the house, but just a fraction of a lifetime ago, I was walking in a line, holding onto a rope as my class crossed the street.
As I passed them I stood up a bit straighter, tried to look like I knew what I was doing, and hopped onto the sidewalk rather than walking on the main driveway, which was admittedly empty, but they’re too young to learn when and how to break the rules. I hope that some day, I do something that will inspire children their age to go to university and to study engineering. Or art, or literature, or science, or anything so long as they learn something new, and answer some of their questions about the world.
And when they get to be my age, I hope that their class is about half male and half female.