The pretty girl in a room full of dudes

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The Blue and Gold (Shilin, Taipei, Taiwan)

By the time Melissa Chang (‘18) was 12 years old, she knew what she wanted to do for life: become an engineer.  But when she told this to two relatives at an extended family gathering, they scoffed. “You want to study engineering in college?” said one.  “You’ll be like the pretty girl in a room full of dudes.”

“Eww, don’t be that chick who sleeps with her professor,” said the other.

Five years later, the prospect of being the only girl in the room has not deterred Melissa from her chosen field. “My internship was a huge sausage fest,” she says. “But most people are pretty nice.” Melissa interned at the pet camera company Tomofun over this past summer, taking apart and soldering machines. “I think I’m happiest when I’m soldering together wires. There’s something really soothing about watching metal melt.”

Even as a six-year-old, Melissa was interested in the inner workings of complex machinery. She loved strolling through technology museums, absorbing displays on the evolution of the microprocessor or the process of making silicon wafers. She examined motherboards whenever her father, an electrical engineering major, took apart his old computers.

From building her own FM radio to poring through 60-page reading assignments at a summer university camp, Melissa has continued to explore her interest in electrical engineering. As the co-president of Girls In STEM, she is also passionate about increasing female representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “I’ve always been inspired by Sabrina Pasterski,” says Melissa. “She’s a physicist who studies high-energy physics and she graduated from MIT at a really young age.” Paterski’s work promoting girls’ education around the world earned her widespread acclaim and even an invitation to the White House in 2016.

Last year, Melissa and four other girls from the Girls In STEM club participated in a girl’s  entrepreneurship event called Technovation Challenge, which required teams to come up with a product, a video pitch, and a ten-page business plan. Melissa says, “I really like the contest because it focused on teaching girls about high-tech entrepreneurship and becoming leaders, which aligned with the club’s vision of encouraging girls at TAS to pursue their interests in STEM.”

The Girls In STEM team successfully built an app to locate stray dogs, despite having little experience in coding beyond basic Javascript.  “I was terrified because I had to figure out how to create an interface connecting the operating systems of animal shelters to users, even though I had minimal coding experience,” says Melissa. In the end, the team was able to fill the gaps in their knowledge quickly by watching YouTube videos. Melissa says, “I was relieved we actually did it.”

By the end of the event, Melissa gained computer science skills useful for studying engineering in university. In the future, she hopes to enter more competitions and research optoelectronics, a field of engineering concerned with both electronics and light.  But for now? “I’m just trying to focus on college applications,” she says.

Featured Image: Deichmanske bibliotek

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