Encouraging Our Youth

How soon do we start encouraging people to reach their full potential? When I look back at my life, I can’t remember a time when my mother didn’t tell me I could be doing better even though what I was doing was already great. I know this isn’t the case for everybody and with new opportunities to be a form of encouragement for younger people it got me wondering, how early does it start?


I’ve dabbled with some of the metrics on the success of minorities and females in school and the common agreement is that by 4th grade we can already see who’s falling behind. In my opinion, that’s far too young to count anybody out. However, it’s also far too old to start setting the groundwork for encouraging these kids to improve themselves. So then I ask you, when is the right time? Is the right time from the moment they are born? To encourage them that their height and weight is good, but it could be better? I’m being facetious, but the point stands. How early is too early and when is the right time?


I don’t think it matters if we start at conception, birth, or when baby starts to show signs of development. However, we absolutely must start when we integrate baby with peers. I think this is important because human beings are inherently competitive. Competitive drive varies between individuals, but there is a part of each of us that wants to be better than someone or something else to prove our worth. I’m not saying that we should encourage competition among these children, but I am saying that telling a child their finger painting was great and they should keep practicing or that they kick a ball around really well but they could kick it even farther if she/he keeps practicing. I think these are important things to teach early.


I also think we need to do away with gender and racial stereotypes in relation to performance. In some areas, such as sports, there are individuals that have clear advantages because of their body types. Body types have a great genetic factor which includes race. However, there’s no reason that this should carry over into the classroom. There are things different people are going to enjoy and people harbor different strengths—these are necessary for us to fill different vocational services. However, there’s no reason we should steer a female into a care position such as nursing and steer a male into a science position just because of their sex.


I have never felt like I’m bound by my gender identity. I can’t tell you the number of times a day that I think or say something and feel like I need to follow it with, “I’m a woman, I swear.” So I know I defy stereotypes constantly, but I also know that in realizing that I defy stereotypes means I’m all too aware of them. I didn’t choose to enter a male dominated field to defy a stereotype—I chose it because it would make me happy. Likewise, I don’t encourage younger girls to enter engineering because I want them to defy the stereotype, it’s because I want them to realize that it is something they can do. All too often I encounter girls who will admit they like math and/or science but feel like they aren’t supposed to.


Someone outside of the home, from the community, from the school, what have you, needs to step forward and encourage a child, or children, that aren’t their own. This is particularly true when someone can be a positive role model for success in life. In the past 3 months I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to encourage middle school girls, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to encourage grade school aged children, and take the beginning steps to volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. In those opportunities that have been completed, I was able to see kids who were truly excited about science and engineering and felt like they had a lot of potential in these areas. For SWE I think this was largely because these children had positive influences in their lives in the form of scientists and engineers. For NSBE I think it was largely because the people teaching these kids got them excited and brought out their potential. Whatever the reason, this is exactly what needs to happen. I’m glad that organizations like SWE and NSBE, among others, have programs out there to promote science and engineering. However, we shouldn’t need programs to promote science and engineering.


Published by She Got The PhD

A web-based soapbox of an Assistant Professor of color in Chemical Engineering; sharing my feelings on books, academia, and current events. I hope you enjoy reading :)

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