How one father helped educate his engineering daughter

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Nicole Pal and her dad, Allan Pal

Here’s a sweet Fathers Day piece by Santa Clara University student Nicole Pal about how her father, Allan Pal, influenced her education.She grew up in San Jose, California, and will graduate in 2014 with a degree in web design and computer engineering. This summer she is building a solar-powered home “Radiant House” for the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition.

By Nicole Pal

Forget barbies or tea cups. The most precious gifts I received as a child were a white board and a book about bridges. I never questioned whether I could succeed as an engineer, and as I head into my final year of engineering school at Santa Clara University, I realize my dad played a huge role.

I’ve always been a daddy’s girl and some of my fondest childhood memories are huddled over that giant white board with my dad. To this day, the board still dominates my bedroom wall. More important than the board itself was how my father helped me process the world around me.

While some young girls might give up on a math question if they didn’t know the answer, my father was patient enough to walk through a problem with me- not just walk me through it. He let me re-work problems until the dry-erase marker was whittled to a stub. I was never tempted to smile, nod and simply pretend I understood. I always keep the whiteboard in mind when tutoring younger girls in algebra.

My father, who is an engineer with a microprocessing company,  encouraged me to be hands on in whatever project he was working on. I remember learning how to use a saw and gleefully shouting “timber” as 2x4s hit the floor. I’ve helped install solar panels at our home. When I was 10 and too young to safely maneuver the roof, I was in charge of tossing water bottles up to my dad and his friends water bottles. I knew how to swing a hammer, saw wood, and measure square footage by the time I was in middle school.

I’m passionate about engineering now because it helps me make sense of the world. By letting me problem-solve and get hands on with projects as a young child, I’ve learned how to make the world compute.

One of the biggest ways my father nurtured my advancement in engineering was helping me find my passion and encouraging me to put in the hard work. I adored a big book of bridges as a child. My parents taught me to see not only the beauty in the structure, but that certain spans can only carry so much weight. I started to see the world in engineering terms from a young age.

Today, I’m the assistant team manager for Santa Clara University’s Solar Decathlon team and leading the construction of a solar house on campus this summer.

Though my dad knew his way around a garage and drawings as an engineer, he also cooked, cleaned and picked me up from school while respecting my mother’s career pursuits. I wasn’t aware of the notion that those were “women’s duties” until much later in life. It never phased me that both of my parents worked or that my father was the only dad on my first cheer trip to nationals.

My parents’ relationship is a true partnership and knowing that keeps me from settling for anything less. The idea that I shouldn’t go after my dreams because I’m a girl or I might intimidate a love interest never crossed my mind.

My father taught me never to take myself too seriously. He is never afraid to make a fool of himself. When I was a teenager, he decided we should learn to wakeboard. He bought the most ridiculous, bright, teenage-daughter-mortifying orange board shorts, claiming they’d help us find him if he fell in. He taught me not to care about what others think but instead to enjoy life.

These experiences help in class. I’m never afraid to raise my hand or disagree with an answer merely because I don’t want to look stupid.

I hope more parents encourage young girls to pursue careers in STEM by encouraging them to think for themselves, to never get intimidated by the world and challenge them to think for themselves. And they can help them to develop a passion for math and science, while always taking time to laugh a little, either at yourself or your dad.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads raising the next generation of engineering women!

 

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · June 16, 2013