Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

Dear @NASA & @AstroKarenN - a little remessaging to encourage women in engineering?

Update: Karen Nyberg actually replied to this on twitter... yay, win! Thanks for the retweets friends!

Dear NASA:

Can we reframe Karen Nyberg's astronaut profile just a little bit?

Here's what I mean... the article starts out like this:

Mention the words "NASA Astronaut" and you’ll usually conjure up the image of a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist.... Enter astronaut Karen Nyberg, an accomplished woman preparing for her second mission to space this May. Nyberg holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, which may lead people to believe she is focused solely on technical matters, but as with many, there’s a softer side to this Midwesterner, one that may catch many by surprise.

Then it goes on to describe how Karen Nyberg likes to sew and quilt.

I get your intention... you're trying to show that a girl can be an engineer, DESPITE her feminine hobbies. Sort of like that guy in college who told me he'd never dated a girl as smart as me before, but he could probably learn to deal with it.

As you might guess, that relationship didn't work out. And if engineering was really a job that required me to push the sewing lobe of my brain to the side, I wouldn't be able to stick with that either. Who'd want to? I don't want to live a split personality life, doing the hobbies I love at home and doing the opposite during the day.

Society sends too many messages that there's one image of an engineer, and you must fit into it. For me, that meant that even with great test scores, I felt really intimidated my first few years of college when the guys around me would brag about their car stereos, and I just wasn't into that... did it mean I wasn't meant to be an engineer?

The sewing I'd done since I was 10 years old should have helped lend me CREDIT in my own mind, to beat the impostor syndrome. My good friend mrs_dragon, a fellow engineer who sews, was the one who finally pointed out to me how you can't love quilting if you hate math. We are assembling puzzles, solving problems, negotiating materials. Engineering requires gobs of creativity, wrapped around practical applications... who's got more of that than a girl who sews?

So of course we're engineers! I've got a masters degree in electrical engineering, a pilot's license, lead an avionics team responsible for systems integration on five models of business jets, I've got crafty hobbies... and as of last Friday I've got TWO daughters, so this topic is even more important to me.

This quote just rubs me the wrong way:

“I love to create,” said Nyberg. “I would really like people to see you can have a job like this, which is very technical, and still have hobbies that are not.”

Karen Nyberg, you are a brilliant, number-crunching engineer. And a super-smart scientist. Of course you sew, it's who you are, not just a side of you. And that's what we should tell little girls. Sewing is technical, and it's part of what makes you a great engineer.

Tweak that article just a smidge for my daughters, will you NASA? That way maybe someone will see them create something soft and beautiful, and they won't say "Well there have been engineers who sew, maybe it could work out." They'll say, "Look at what you've made! Do you know that this means you might make a great engineer someday?"
Tags: engineering, women engineers
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