Late fifties and early sixties were "changing times." ....In lower school, the teachers that inspired me the most were the ones that encouraged that spark of sheer desire to solve difficult problems....It wasn't but a few days into the (Computer Science) class before I realized this was the subject for me. It was so fun, I forgot the time of day. I spent hours and hours hanging around the computer labs working on those first programs.
Late fifties and early sixties were "changing times." The acceptable professions for women were teachers and nurses. However, during World War II women had shown themselves to be adept at many professions including pilots, politicians, factory workers, and doctors. For a while women stepped back into the role of mother and housewives but there were still many single moms and widows in the workplace. At school I excelled in mathematics and science. Some of my teachers could see that I loved challenges so encouraged me along. Still it was hard to think at the time that I could be a doctor, lawyer or 'heaven forbid' a female engineer!
In lower school, the teachers that inspired me the most were the ones that encouraged that spark of sheer desire to solve difficult problems. I loved puzzles and remember spending hours putting together jigsaw puzzles with my cousin Katie Nicolai. In Kindergarten, A teacher discovered I had a love for astronomy and gave me a book of nursery rhymes in which she had written a note about remembering the next total eclipse of the sun and its date. Another teacher discovered I had an interest in pyramids and archaeology so pushed me to write a short story by having me write about an adventure in Egypt.
In junior high I had a 9th grade science teacher that encouraged my interest in Nuclear Physics. It was the 'hot' science field at the time. Atoms, electrons, and Van de Graaff generators were so much of interest I talked my dad into taking a detour once to Oak Ridge laboratories in Tennessee during a family vacation. As a result of that interest I got to go to my first high science symposium during the summer of the my Freshman year. I met other kids that were also interested in science and math. I didn't feel like so much of a 'freak' any more! It was cool to be a geek. At the Junior High School graduation someone read class predictions and they said I would be a Nuclear Physicist.
In high school the math and science teachers were encouraging. Physics and Chemistry were taught in alternating years because the high school was so small. (My graduating class was only 85) It was very challenging to take the Physics my Junior year and then the Chemistry the Senior year. Ralph Yeakley was my teacher both years and continued to sponsor me at the summer science symposiums. Still, I had no idea what I was going to do as a profession.
My mathematics teacher for all three years was the high school football coach but also quite an excellent math teacher. Geometry was a struggle for the first few weeks and then a light bulb went off! Suddenly doing geometric proofs were fun. In the following years, Algebra and Trigonometry were also a breeze. Coach McIver had to struggle to keep me challenged. One day he pulled me to the side after class. There was an exam and everyone else in the class had made a low grade. I had scored a 95. He half apologized and said he was going to have spend more class time on the subject to get the rest of the class caught up with me! At the end of high school I still didn't know what I wanted to do as a profession. The person writing the class prophecy said I would work for NASA. Everyone knew I was nuts about all the space flights.
I started college without much direction to go other than I knew I like Math and Science. I knew I didn't want to teach high school so I declared my major as a BS in Mathematics. The teachers usually took a BA degree that way they didn't have to compete with the engineering students in chemistry and physics. My freshman year first semester I got a Professor for Chemistry that had won "best science teacher" at Univ. of Texas at Arlington. He was so much fun! I was moving closer to changing my major to chemistry. The second semester I got a horrible chemistry teacher for lecture that was totally uninspiring. However the chemistry lab professor was fantastic. That semester we got 3 "unknown" liquids and had to figure out what they were. Another puzzle! I enjoyed the labs so much that I completed those three and the teacher made two more unknowns, including one that was an all metal mixture. That one was harder! I finished those labs two weeks before the end of the semester! I was having so much fun! I still wonder today if the lecture professor had been better if I wouldn't have changed my major to chemistry.
At the end of the Freshman year, I decided to take off the first of the two summer semesters. In Texas it gets very, very hot in July and August so you might as well take classes in an air conditioned building! I decide it was time to go back. In the second session I took a Computer Science class in FORTRAN (a scientific computer language). I had talked with one of my fellow students and it seemed like it might be challenge. I was told not to take that 2 hr class during the summer if I thought I wanted to minor in CS (There wasn't a major in it yet!). The school was changing it to a three hour class more appropriate for people that wanted to do more work in it and leaving the 2 hr class for those that just needed to learn enough to do something for their Masters or one of their advanced Engineering classes. It wasn't but a few days into the class before I realized I had made a mistake, this was the subject for me and wished I had waited for the longer class. Well maybe not, it was so fun, I forgot the time of day. I spent hours and hours hanging around the computer labs working on those first programs. At the end of my Freshman year, I had finally stumbled onto a path that led me to become a computer programmer and to meet my future husband!
So many inspirations and the thing that screamed "Pick me." came just from casual interaction with other students. Life seems often to guide us with tiny nudges. Your "trip" was interesting.
The best I can say about this story is that I am so glad there are people in the world like you who find the most complex things fascinating and worth your time and interest. It's people like you and so many other "geeks" that allow us to enjoy the technological marvels that make life easy and fun. Thanks for this.
I'm in awe - I was so bad in math I put off taking my freshman math class till the last semester of my senior year in college. To quote Mr. Carriker, "your 'trip' was interesting."