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Jennie McCracken, PE, PTOE shares her story of inspiration as a women in the transportation and engineering field and the importance of connecting to inspire young women interested in STEM.
March is one of my favorite months of the year – Women’s History, St Patty’s Day and I’m reminded of my grandmother, Jeanne, who loved the start of Spring. On our Sunday drives to church, we’d point out the new blooms and tulips (red was her favorite). Grandma was my bestie – in my rebellious teen years she was who I ran away from home to, and she believed I could do anything. She encouraged me to start my first paper route at 10 (because I could do anything my brother could), she saved every newspaper article I was ever in, and I stayed with her several nights a week after she suffered a major stroke in high school.
The stroke changed her in many ways – she worried less and although she was lovingly referred to as Mean Jeanne, some of her edge was dulled. She had to relearn reading and writing. Part of this relearning meant my Grandma went from writing with her right-hand to left-hand after the stroke. She was born in 1922, her father was a doctor, and she started her education in Catholic school where they forced her to learn to write right-handed. She shared stories, they would tie her left hand behind her back or smack her hand with a ruler if she attempted using her left. Beyond being inherently disadvantaged by a right-handed bias in the design of tools, left-handed people have been subjected to deliberate discrimination and discouragement. Thankfully, in the late 20th century, left-handedness became less stigmatized – so my Aunt Rosie, myself, and my daughter Reagan Jeanne, have not experienced shame in being left-handed.
You may be asking, "Why are you sharing this story?" This example is no different from the women engineers who are pegged as not being a “good fit for engineering”, when we are expected to perform “office housework” and administrative tasks or when we walk the tight rope that forces women to monitor and adjust our behavior in a male dominated transportation field.
Each and every one of us can be an advocate for change. We can share stories at networking events, through awards and in newsletters and social media articles that provide a space for women to connect. We can provide information through ITSPA on how young women in transportation can be more involved and share opportunities related to issues that affect them personally. We can look to cosponsor programs with other engineering societies like WTS to demonstrate women can exist in the industry and be successful. And we can partner with organizations to support K-12 initiatives to increase interest and retention in STEM, especially for young girls! ITSPA has long sponsored programs like Math Counts, Future Cities, and STEM charities as part of the Penn State TESC.
According to the World Economic Forum, COVID-19 has disproportionally affected women and my daughter likely will not see gender parity in her lifetime. The proposed timeline has been pushed back from 99.5 years to 135.6 years. Let’s work together to bring three or four women with us because we need to do more to get this trend back on track!