“What’s your major?”
computer science and engineering.
“wow, you must be super smart! I could never do that!”
let me be clear: I am not a genius. I am not acing my classes with ease. Being “smart” is very relative to the environment you’re in, but aptitude is absolute. Every major is difficult in some way — for instance, I could never ever draft a marketing plan — but we are created to do different things.
I chose to study engineering and technology because I love how tech works. When I got my first computer, I was fascinated how one setting could impact the entire system’s performance. I taught myself a lot, including what not to do to a computer (I nearly broke it, whoops), but I knew I wanted to do something with computers.
as a freshman in high school, I took a course in HTML programming. HTML is the language of the internet, and almost every web page uses HTML in it. Although most computer scientists will tell you that HTML is “cheater code,” meaning it requires almost no skill in programming logic and computer decision making and is based in English, the entire concept of code thrilled me. I could type some symbols in my computer and after some hard work catching errors I could make something that other people could use!
before going to college, I tried as much as I could. I learned basic programming logic through Microsoft’s Visual Basic (now called “obsolete”), MATLAB (which I now refer to as a “glorified calculator”), and learning IT basics, such as computer hardware and general troubleshooting strategies. On my college search, I loved Ohio State’s program since it combined computer science (software based) with the problem solving skills required in engineering without so much emphasis on hardware.
did I ever consider any other major before going to college? Sure! I thought about dietetics once I was diagnosed with bowel disease, but it would’ve required a lot more chemistry classes than I was thinking. I briefly thought about nursing, seeing as how nurses have often saved my life with the simplest things, but I would’ve had to work against my vision daily to stick an IV or read the blood pressure monitor. However, in computer science, I can use technology to enhance my view of things so I can read my own code. Brilliant!
I started college, and as most firsts year students quickly realize, I was now average. there will always be someone in your class that takes a perfect midterm, answers every question, is a quadruple major, and has a crazy side project of developing the next greatest app. While I could use assistive technology, professors write on chalkboards, give lots of handouts paper, and aren’t aware of students with disabilities unless they themselves choose to disclose. I’ve run into many challenges, including failing my first calculus quiz because I couldn’t read the graph, stumbling my way through engineering drawings with no depth perception, and a combative professor who was reluctant to handle my accommodations.
on a different note, I’ve also learned that professors are people too. Most do care and will help you if you are open and honest with them. I never use my disability as an excuse for not doing work and as soon as my professors see that, they can even relate to you on a more personal level. My first semester, I selectively disclosed to professors and rarely used my cane. However, after an initial phone interview with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I used my cane everywhere. I never stopped to think until it was much too late that the professor I was seeing for office hours knew nothing about my vision and panicked when I walked in with my cane, even though she did nothing wrong. We later discussed it and she was extremely helpful, but she still felt unnecessarily guilty, which I felt bad for.
But why do I suffer through difficult classes, dense theories, and hours upon hours of rectifying my code so it actually works? Until last April, I couldn’t have accurately said. Yet seeing as assistive technology, like the use of my iPad or zoom feautes on my MacBook were essential to my success (not to mention good friends, study buddies, and the Lord so I didn’t go insane), I realized I wanted to provide a similar experience to others.
there are extremely few persons with disabilities in STEM fields, namely because they aren’t easy or easily accessible. Disabled people have struggles that most able-bodied people take for granted, but we learn to adapt and make lemonade out of limes. However it’s 2016, at the dawn of what some might argue is a technological revolution, and we have the right to make our already complicated lives a bit easier. Engineering can be for everyone, or even going up stairs without a ramp for people with mobility disorders.
all this to define what I want to do with my life, yes, but more importantly to share why I’m passionate about code that prints out stars in a pattern. The seemingly silly things I’m learning now could very well be the building blocks of my future. The theories and logic I have jumbled in my brain is not just to regurgitate on an exam, but as an active part of the learning process. The often over-quoted Scripture “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” has merit in that He will strengthen you for the difficult tasks ahead that fall according to His purpose for you. I may not know what exactly I’ll do or where I’ll do it, but for now, I’ll do my math proofs and suck up whatever I can on this bumpy ride called college: it only comes once most of the time, so seize it.