Success Through Perseverance: An Engineering Journey

Libby West is a third-year mechanical engineering student at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). She is currently the president-elect of the Engineering and Technology Student Council (ETSC), first-year mentor for Women in Engineering Network (WEN), career ambassador for the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, and recitation leader for Mechanical Engineering Statics. Libby is also a part of Tau Beta Pi – Indiana Zeta: The Engineering Honor Society and participates in intramural basketball and soccer.

During middle school, all of the eighth graders attended a course fair to explore all the required courses and electives Jeffersonville High School (Jeff High) offered for the next four years.

The year I attended, I noticed a booth with a banner displaying four big letters: PLTW.

I talked to the teacher about this new program, which focused on introducing high school students to engineering. A big machine on display caught my attention. I later learned that if I enrolled in the PLTW course, I could use this device – a MakerBot 3D printer – to print designs I created in the course. I loved the technology classes the school required all eighth graders to take, so I decided I would love to take this class as my high school elective.

On my first day of high school, I walked into my first period class, PLTW Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), about 10 minutes before the bell rang. I noticed I was the only girl in my class but thought it was because I was early. Soon enough, more freshmen walked in, and I realized I was going to be the only girl in this class.

I couldn’t help but wonder why other girls wouldn’t want to take this class. We had the opportunity to learn about interesting topics – and even more by taking additional PLTW courses over the next three years. I was so excited for this class, but I felt uncomfortable because I was the only girl.

I heard rumors that the first day of freshman year usually defined the following three. I felt that pressure. I thought if I was the only girl in this class, it must be weird for girls to take engineering classes. (I was wrong.) I went to my counselor and asked to switch out of IED and into the only Advanced Placement (AP) elective available for freshmen.

I am very grateful that Jeff High offers a variety of Honors Dual Credit/AP courses. These classes prepared me for college and allowed me to complete almost all of my general education credits before ever stepping foot on a college campus. I do regret not taking advantage of the full PLTW Engineering experience, which I know would have continuously benefited my engineering career. I had the room in my schedule to take both PLTW and Honors/AP classes, but I decided on the latter because I was worried about what others might think.

Please do not make that mistake. I heard about other students' PLTW Engineering experiences and I realized what I missed. I wish I hadn’t been caught up in the opinions of others.

Halfway through my junior year of high school, Jeff High encouraged students to start thinking seriously about plans after graduation. I wasn’t totally committed to a career path, but I knew I wanted to go to university. Like most students, trying to decide on a school and a major proved challenging. Through self analysis and the direction from personality tests, I started thinking about business management or engineering. I enrolled into both a business class and IED (for a second time). I liked the business class, and I would someday like to earn my MBA; however, my experience in IED encouraged me to major in mechanical engineering at IUPUI.

On my “last first day” of high school, I walked in to my IED classroom, and just like before, I was the only girl enrolled in the class; however, this time, I was also the only senior among all freshmen. That day, we went over the syllabus, and I could not wait for the projects we were going to do!

Over the course of the year, everything we did in IED was so exciting. I felt the 50 minutes a day was never long enough. I learned that being the only girl in the room should never have bothered me. What really mattered was doing something I enjoyed and following a path that allows me to help create a better world.

Before graduating, my teachers asked me to work that same course fair I attended four years prior. I informed prospective students about the class and told them if they are willing to work hard, anyone - regardless of gender - can succeed in the course. It was so rewarding to encourage incoming freshman to take advantage of this great opportunity.

Upon graduation, the school career counselor visited my class to highlight a summer internship program sponsored by Conexus. I wanted to participate, but I was graduating and this opportunity was not for outgoing seniors.

Thankfully, my career counselor passed my information on to a community partner, where I interviewed, and then served as an AutoCAD technician. I made designs that the company would use for manufacturing in the facility.

This experience served as a strong foundation for my future opportunities. Since my time in IED, I have had four different mechanical engineering internships. I feel that internships are critical for experiential learning and finding confirmation that you are going down the right career path.

Currently, I am involved in both the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Women in Engineering Network (WEN) at IUPUI. We are able to support one another and attend professional development workshops with industry partners in Indianapolis and nationwide. After having such a great experience with this WEN program as a “mentee” during my freshman year, I committed to serving as a mentor to first-year women in engineering. I also serve as president-elect for the Engineering and Technology Student Council so I can encourage involvement and professional development among my peers. My membership in each organization allows me to talk with prospective students about the engineering and technology opportunities available at IUPUI. I love to share my experiences and raise awareness that students from any background can succeed in STEM fields if they are willing to work hard.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.