In 2001, Debbie Sterling was finishing up high school in Rhode Island and starting to apply to colleges. She asked her math teacher to write a recommendation letter for her. Her teacher asked what Debbie planned to study so that she could make the letter more specific. Debbie replied simply, “I don't know.”
Her math teacher suggested, “Why don't you major in engineering? I think you would really excel in that field.”
Debbie wasn't quite sure what it meant to be an engineer. The first thought that came to mind was the person who drives a train. She thought there was no way that an “artistic and creative girl” like her could ever be interested in that. But the confidence that Debbie's math teacher had in her inspired her to look further into the matter.
Debbie was accepted into Stanford University. She decided to enroll in a survey level mechanical-engineering course but with a little bit of fear. She thought that for the first time in her academic career she might fail a course.
It was in that class, ME 101, which consisted of inventing and designing a wide variety of items, that Debbie discovered that engineers build the amazing tools, gadgets, and machines that make people's lives better. That was something she could see herself doing.
But Debbie also learned in her early engineering classes that she didn't fit in. There were only a few girls in ...