Who Would Have Thought…

I was never one to try and get dirty. Quite the contrary actually, I hated the dirt, even the dust, which I stared at condescendingly from fear that it could potentially ruin my fancy outfits.

I feared the saws, the drills; their sounds gave me headaches. Although I did consider myself as someone bold and willing to try new things, I wasn’t particularly attracted to the idea of becoming America’s next top handyman. I looked at magazines and online; it just seemed to be the same: men holding hammers with their construction hats and vests, smiling. I never understood how someone could enjoy such tedious work, nor had I ever associated that task with anyone but a male. “Environmental Engineering,” they called it on my 11th grade class schedule. To me, it sounded more like adorned words to describe a wood shop class you’d see on a cliché American chick flick about some girls’ high school dramatic romances where only the losers would enroll in the class. If that wasn’t synonymous for “boring,” then I didn’t know what else was.

If you fast-forward nine months, you’d never hear Inès say that. No in fact, if you fast-forwarded those nine months, you’d find a girl smiling in class, willing to get her hands in the stain, wood glue and mosaic, excited to be building, running back and forth between the saws and the bucket of screws, galloping to take out the Skillsaw, the nail gun, or her favorite: The Grinder. If the same old Inès had seen what the current Inès was involved with, she might just have fainted.

The grinder was the scariest of the tools. At least, it used to be. A while ago. The round blade spun so quickly and created big sparks every time it came in contact with something. I mean knowing myself, I was confidant I’d grind a finger off one day, or worse. But some smart person one day said that “Every journey begins with the first step” and while at first that seemed like a pretentious thing to say, facing my fear with The Grinder was indeed the first step to a new and thrilling journey in engineering class. Ms. Oropallo would stand beside me repeating “just turn it on already, don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you!” She was there, waiting, holding up her camera to take pictures of me working the tool, and I had noticed a large group of the class stepping towards me as I began to turn it on.
I felt a rush during that experience that made me feel fearless. And I was, after I accommodated to The Grinder. My new journey began shortly after.


After I finished building a chicken coop with a group of three other female engineers, I built a solar USB charger that required soldering and using reclaimed wood. My older brother, seeing the finished product, asked me for a screwdriver so he could open it and see what’s inside, in other words, to see if I had actually built it correctly. He was a skeptical when I told him I had built it alone.

Soon after, my group’s chicken coop was selected to be showcased at the Marinovaters event, and I found myself becoming a student speaker, describing the class and the skills I’ve acquired, never knowing my speech would end up on Marin TV Comcast. Some of my fencing coaches who had seen me in the news were confused; they didn’t think I was the girl to enroll in an engineering class or build anything remotely close to a miniature chicken mansion. They were wrong, just as I was wrong in my first judgment of the class. I wasn’t afraid now to call myself “a female engineer” or “an independent woman,” and no longer wanted to rely on anyone. I now refuse people to underestimate my abilities of building or let anyone say that “girl’s can’t do anything” or to say the famous “engineering is a guy’s class.” Ms. Oropallo had showed me what a real engineering class was, and she taught me who to become: an independent, strong, ambitious, perseverant teenage girl and critical thinker. I may not become America’s next top handyman, or should I say handywoman, but I have definitely grown a new personality that will push me to accomplish more in my future and that has completely changed who I am today.


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