We’re thrilled to present the winner of the Ohio STEM Learning Network high school essay contest. Erica Barnes is a junior at NIHF STEM High School in Akron, Ohio. We’ve published her winning essay in its entirety, but first, we’ll let her introduce herself to the network:
Erica: Since the 5th grade, when my middle school career began, I have had an interest in becoming an engineer. From my first engineering class, where we built Rube Goldberg machines and were introduced to the Engineering Design Process, I was hooked. Building and designing came naturally to me; the concept of being able to create entire cities was a dream that I now knew was possible for me. Learning about the types of engineering led me to find Civil Engineering. Moving into high school and becoming more college and career focused, I began to find out just what it takes to become a Civil Engineer. When I graduate, I hope to study Civil Engineering at a top university, eventually moving on to earn my Master’s degree in Urban Planning. My overall career goal is to design and improve cities and urban areas using sustainable practices to create an environment that can be enjoyed by all.
Read her winning essay below:
Imagine being in a class where it feels like everyone seems to understand the material: except you. This is my case when it comes to math, calculus especially. As someone who wants to become an engineer, every version of math is crucial for me to grasp to become successful in my future. In a school where college is highly promoted, and coming from education-oriented parents, continuing my education is important to succeed in life. Seems typical, but what happens when you struggle with the very thing you want to study?
Every week is a new chapter, new homework, new quizzes, and the dreaded test. Here I am, faced with this just like every other student. I take out my notebook, follow along, ask questions, albeit more than everyone else, and it makes sense. Then comes the test. I feel solidarity with my friends going into it, surrounded by choruses of “I’m going to fail” and “I don’t know anything”. During the test I become enclosed in my own world of struggle, trying to make sense of the notes that were once so clear. I periodically look around to see if anyone else is outwardly showing the internal panic I feel, but all is calm. Every once in a while, I’ll share a disappointed head nod with a classmate about a particularly hard question; we then both continue to tread through the field of symbols, letters, and numbers that are on the test.
The tests are finally graded and returned. Friends that seemed to struggle with you, claiming to know nothing, receive high B’s and A’s, a sea of 90 and above percent. I receive my paper, turned face down to avoid other’s eyes. Turning it over, I take in the numerous red slashes, circling of mistakes and question marks. I go through the test, keeping up a happy face, writing down the correct answers and comparing with friends’ papers. I remain light on the outside, but the all too familiar feeling of failure is in full effect. 80 is the golden number, the achievement of mastery that is held highly to all STEM students. Seeing anything less is an immediate blow to both your grade and self-esteem. You don’t want to look dumb or fall behind because the reflection of that is unknown. Will you have the same impression on colleges, or get the same opportunities? How could I be trying to achieve this degree when I can’t even be average in high school?
These thoughts have lead me to ask what I really want for myself. I know that I want to pursue engineering because I still have a passion for it despite my difficulties. I want to be able to design and create a world that improves life for generations. I want to be a role model and inspire young, black girls who enjoy science and want to build and expand their knowledge. I want them to look at my success and believe that they can achieve anything, despite the circumstances or odds stacked against them. It is for these girls that I try to take each math test in stride. It is for these girls that I continue to pick myself back up and persevere. I have realized that my scores and numbers do not define who I am or my true intelligence. High school tests cannot measure the love I have for my friends and family, the values I hold close, my ideas and creativity that are waiting to be expressed. I continue to march on stronger than ever because I believe in myself: no class or test will ever tell me otherwise.