Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
When Amelia Earhart collected newspaper articles about successful women in predominately male-oriented fields, did she know that someday she would become the feature of many of these articles? My assumption is that she was like many women today who have risky dreams, the difference is that Earhart decided to take the risk.
Why don't we have more women challenging conventional female behavior? Almost 100 years after Earhart, the American culture still struggles with accepting women who step outside of normal gender roles. Little girls who like to organize their peers are labeled as "bossy" and heaven forbid that they have the opportunity to play with traditional male toys without someone turning a judging eye. Or better, we short change girls by painting the toy pink or purple and expecting that the color pulls them in by some force of nature. We should praise entrepreneurs who take a risk and bring us toys such as Goldie Blox. Although the number of engineers graduating has increased by 11 percent in recent years, the number of female engineers has declined (Poter, 2011). Despite the fact that almost half of calculus advance placement exams are taken by women in high school, the percentage of first year female engineering students has been hovering under 20 percent since 1990 (Horting). In the world of aviation, the number of women pilots has been unchanged since 1960 (Goyer). Between engineering and aviation, American's have missed a generation (or more) of women who could have reached their potential or made a difference in society.
Earhart was not only a pioneer of the skies, but of marriage. She describes her own marriage to George Putnam as a "partnership" with "dual control." She boldly kept her maiden name when she married in 1931. As I prepare for my own wedding in three months, I have received numerous lectures about my choice to keep my maiden name from friends and family from all generations. I hope that Earhart is not saddened that over 80 years later, Americans are still passing the same judgment.
The men who support strong women are taking a risk themselves by stepping outside of normal gender roles. These men included stunt pilot Paul Mantz, who worked with Earhart in Southern California, and her crew member Fred Nooan. The leader of the free world, President Hoover, stood up for Earhart and presented her with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society. To thank the men who stand up for strong women, the Society of Women Engineers has created the Rodney D. Chipp Memorial Award. This award celebrates the work of a man or company that helps make engineering a viable career option for women.
Don't forget that women who decide to take risk need support from other women as well. I cannot count the micro aggressive expressions I've received when I'm introduced as an aerospace engineer and pilot, from both men and women. Some of my favorites have been, "But you're too pretty to work with greasy things" and, "Good for you, but I'd never want my daughter to do what you're doing because she'd never make friends." Newsflash: People can be friends with people of the opposite gender and even of a different college major!
Amelia Earhart did something for her generation and future generations to come, she challenged conventional female behavior. In this generation of millennials and younger, there is at least one of you that is the next Amelia Earhart. I hope you or your parents read this, and that you follow your dreams. Being authentic to yourself is not only important to your personal growth, but to society. Society needs your contribution. Earhart didn't become a household name overnight. She made many decisions and that is where the road she chose ended up. Make a decision today that is worth the risk.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to commemorate the 79th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's 1935 record-breaking solo flight, when she became the first person ever to fly from the mainland United States to Hawaii. To see all the posts in the series, click here.