My journey towards a career in engineering is not a cliché story where I always loved putting things together and taking them apart; my parents did not think that this would be my passion, and they did not push me towards a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). I actually had no family members or relatives who were engineers, and the topic was rarely brought up in my household. But, there was one common theme throughout my education—my learning disabilities.
Early on, my mom noticed a problem with my reading comprehension and had me tested for learning disabilities in kindergarten. I was diagnosed with SLD (Specific Learning Disability) in reading comprehension. I was too young to know what that meant in elementary and middle school; all I understood was it meant that I had to leave class during exams so I could have extra time and, of course, everyone noticed. I was mortified every time my teachers would point to me at the beginning of each exam, and I would have to walk to a separate room with a proctor. The humiliation I felt from being deemed “disabled” turned into anger towards my parents and school; I was ashamed of being different. I was so ashamed I even insisted that my mom have me retested in middle school to prove I did not need a separate setting and extended time, but, this test showed once again that I had SLD in reading comprehension.
I struggled with this all through middle school and into high school, but then, when the topic of college started coming up in sophomore/junior year, I started to accept my disability. I knew that if I did not use the extended time I needed on SAT and AP exams, I would not have the opportunity to get the best scores possible. I started to take ownership of my learning disabilities and confront teachers who would announce, in front of the entire class, my need to go to the Disability Services Office to start my exam. I think the major downfall of the community of educators with whom I was surrounded in elementary school was that they were not trained properly on what learning disabilities were, how the disabilities can affect a student emotionally, and how to make their teaching style adaptive to all learning styles including those of us with disabilities. I found that my teachers saw me as more of an extra chore they were not getting paid for than as an important part of their teaching responsibilities.
Despite the setbacks with my learning disabilities, I have never let them affect my goals. I have always dreamed and believed in having the best career possible, whatever that may be. This dream is what led me to my engineering major. I did not know what I wanted to do freshman year in college, so I was determined to pick a challenging major that would set me up for achievement; I chose industrial systems engineering. After four years in the industrial systems engineering department, I can safely say that I do not think I would be in college today or have the grades that I do, if it wasn’t for utilizing all of the disability services offered. I now understand and accept that a learning disability, though unfortunate, does not have to hinder anyone’s career goals as long as they are taking advantage of all the opportunities available.
In four years I have completed two internships – with Caterpillar Machinery and Deloitte Consulting, studied abroad at Oxford University in England and at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, stayed an active member of the University Honors Program, and joined the University’s football and basketball dance team. I have also taken on an active outreach and recruiting role in the College of Engineering as an engineering ambassador. I have accepted a full-time position with Deloitte Consulting in Los Angeles as a business technology analyst and will begin after graduation this May. I have big plans for my future and hope to continue my education at Stanford or London Business School in a few years on my pursuit to have the strongest, happiest career possible.