An Engineer’s Journal: Orientation Day, 1963


Journal Entry: September 18, 1963

Today’s assembly was nerve-racking.  I got through the bookstore successfully, managing to get every book on the list, the K&E slide rule, drafting instruments and seven college-lined notebooks.  My biggest problem (or so I thought walking over to the auditorium) was carrying the heavy book-bag. I was wrong.

The Dean’s voice soared over the feedback that screeched from the speakers:

“Look to your right and left.  Three freshman – two of you will not graduate.”

He concluded on a high note, wished us success and reminded us how fortunate we were to have been chosen in such a competitive environment!  As the Dean left the podium, my new classmates grabbed their gear and poured out of the auditorium, en masse.  I opted to wait, while trying to fade into the background.  But it was not to be, as the cute boy next to me asked:

“What are you doing here?”

Startled, at first, I replied: “I want to be an engineer!”

“You’re taking a guy’s place – a guy who really wants to be an engineer. You’ll get married, have babies and your degree will be wasted, while a deserving guy was robbed of the opportunity.“

His words stung and I turned purple with embarrassment.  I got out of there as quickly as I could feeling many eyes on me.  Had he been right?  I am qualified; I have great grades, killed the college boards and though Stevens rejected my application (girls not allowed),  Newark College of Engineering welcomed me.  I have  a NJ State Scholarship, making college affordable for Mom and Dad.  They are so proud of me – the first in our family to go to college! I deserve to be here, as much as he does!

This morning, I was excited, anticipating joining nine other young women (and 516 ‘freshmen’) for  Orientation.  Now, I am upset and questioning myself. His words may be a barometer of what lies ahead. Tonight, alone in the dark, I feel isolated and uncertain.  But I can’t let that define me.  I resolve  to fight harder, get better grades and develop a thick skin, to prove to others that I can do it!   I just hope that boy is not in any of my classes.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953)

This post is part of an ongoing series:An Engineer’s Journal”.

 Though I did not write this journal contemporaneously, my memory of that day and so many others is vivid. With wisdom gleaned from adversity and maturity, I  look back on my undergraduate experiences, and realize with dismay, that in 1963 I blamed myself for not being what everyone else expected, rather than recognizing the ignorance and bigotry in others.


21 Comments on “An Engineer’s Journal: Orientation Day, 1963

  1. Well done. The memory seemed a bit rushed however, maybe due to the word limit, but it’s like you’re avoiding delving too deep. Don’t be afraid to let your readers feel those wounds as fresh and bleeding and life-threatening.

    A few things to note: you’ll want to be conservative with -ly adverbs. In this piece, they’re distracting more than they’re supporting. Also, if you plan on revisiting this for a longer piece, you’ll need to be aware of some subject/verb confusions. Example: “Finally over, my new classmates grabbed their gear and poured out of the auditorium, en masse.” “Finally over” in this instance is describing the noun that follows the comma: classmates, not the lecture.

    Aside from that, I need to tell you that I’m impressed. Truly impressed. That you pulled yourself through that BS, and you’re willing to write about it. That’s two doses of courage. Well done!


    • It’s, as they say: 3 steps forward, 2 back. There’s a net gain, but what a consistent struggle. Being female never helped me. There were no quotas or special attempts to pull women in. And don’t get me started on the glass ceiling. I did manage to make it to the executive board level, as Vice President and CPO of a Corporate Procurement, because the CEO recognized that I had experience and capabilities that he definitely took advantage of…in a good way. Thank you for you comment.


  2. I have a female friend who works as an engineer now, and although we still have a long way to go, I can already see a difference in the way the world looks at so-called jobs “for men.” Thank you for sharing this part of your story. I look forward to hearing more.


    • Getting a job and then being considered for managerial career paths (when it would otherwise be appropriate for a man) were significant hurdles, as well. When I thought about all of those situations again, I realized there is much to capture for posterity. I have a successful, brilliant daughter and though she’s heard some of them, many surprise even her. Thank you for your comment.


  3. As I read this I was so reminded of what you went through, I saw you struggle with this , through college and throughout you career, we both knew that you always had to be that much better then the rest, as you constantly had to prove how good you were and are. You did all that, and never gave in or up. How I wish that boy in college could see you now, ah yes women’s lib, you were the Susan b Anthony of the 60’s , thank god for women like you. Love you , glad I was able to be part of you your sister eileen


  4. I enjoyed the format. It made me feel like I was sneaking a peek into someone’s diary. The excerpt is fantastic, too.


  5. What a frustrating thing to encounter. It’s such a shame that we can internalize that sort of criticism instead of understanding, in the moment, that it is really about the people speaking it and not about us. I liked the format you used, the journal entry.


  6. I can’t imagine what that must have been like, to be informed that you were a place-stealer for someone more deserving simply for being a woman. We still have so much equality to fight for, but thank goodness we’ve come at least this far!


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