Thursday, September 22, 2016

9/20/16- Failing

It was fall 2001, and the weather starting to cool down in Phoenix.  So it was 95 degrees for the high versus 110 degrees (I realize I like to talk a lot about how hot it is here, ha).  I was in my sophomore year at Arizona State University, studying electrical engineering.  I had just received a letter from ASU.  Not unusual to get mail from the school you attend, but this piece of mail was different.  It had "open now" or "urgent" marked on it. As I anxiously opened it up, my stomach sank to my feet.  I was failing Physics III.

I had received my first ever midterm warning.  All through high school, I had never received a midterm warning. In fact, I was a straight A student.  But studying electrical engineering at college was stressing my GPA. Freshmen year I ended up receiving 2 B's and 2 A's, averaging a 3.5 GPA.  I reluctantly accepted that I wasn't an A student anymore over the first summer break.  I continued on to sophomore year a little disappointed, but a 3.5 was acceptable.  I wasn't defeated.  I was determined to continue on.

I felt immense shame reading this midterm warning letter.  I had never failed at a class before.  I had gotten B's in Physics I and II, and even aced Physics in high school.  I should not be failing, I remember thinking.  I also recall thinking that my parents are going to be so disappointed in me. Looking back right now, I can't even tell you why I was failing.  But I was, and it made me doubt myself.  I thought, maybe engineering isn't for me.

I had dinner, or maybe it was lunch, later in the week with my parents.  I was dreading this meal with them because I knew I had to tell them that I'm failing. Sure, I could have withheld the information, but I knew deep down they'd find out eventually.  They were paying my tuition, so my line of thought was they'd put it together from the tuition bills or something like that.  Them finding out on their own was probably a small risk, but not one I wanted to take.  Better to tell them I thought. I don't remember how I told them, if it was a gradual build (I've done well so far, I'm studying hard, but also working, etc.) or if it was blunt (blurted out, I'm failing a class!).

To my surprise, my dad, also an electrical engineer, responded that it was okay.  He also came close to failing some classes and ended up as a C student in his undergraduate program (he did better in his graduate program, to note).  I was a little shocked to learn that my dad, someone who I consider very smart and successful in engineering, had been a C student in college.  It almost immediately changed my perspective on grades and on what it meant to be an engineer.  I didn't have to be a perfect A student to be an engineer.

I worked hard, and by the end of the semester, I got a C in Physics III.  If I remember my other grades correctly from that semester, I got a 2 A's and B.  By time graduation rolled around, I had 3.1 GPA. Not too shabby for someone in danger of failing a class and potentially being put on academic probation.  My husband has his own wonderful (yes wonderful) failure story as well.

Hi College Me! Keep it up!

He failed Calc I (or maybe it was Calc II) TWO times and was on academic probation.  His academic adviser even "advised" him that engineering is not for you and that he should switch majors.  He was on the verge of changing majors until his brother said, come on dude, don't give up (I'm paraphrasing).  He passed Calc I the third time.  He told me it finally "just clicked" the third time around (3rd times a charm :-)). He's now a successful (in my biased opinion) manager after many years of being a mechanical engineer.

The reason I'm sharing my story, my dad's story, and my hubby's story, is I want you to know that we weren't perfect engineering students. That we struggled and failed.  If you meet us today, you might think to yourself, Suzie, her hubby and her dad are doing so well at work and engineering comes easy for them.  Engineering was (and at times still is for me) a struggle for us.  I know other engineers that struggled as well and whose stories could fill another post.

I want you to know that if you are struggling, you're not alone.  If there is even a tiny little bit of desire in you, don't let some bad grade, some adviser, some bad performance review, some manager, and so on STOP you. One of my favorite lines from Galaxy Quest is, "Never give up, never surrender,"  and it is very applicable to our stories of failure.  We failed, but we never gave up, never surrendered.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome story! Thanks for sharing. So many top students are crushed when they have a bad semester, or class. It is so helpful when all of us reveal that we, too, had a stumble or two.