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Failing Forward: From Academic Probation to Design Automation

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Note from the editor: Have you ever wanted to quit something because it was too hard? Or maybe you’re the kind of person who’s good at everything…but then one day you find that you’re not. Or maybe there’s a dream that you abandoned because the path was too challenging and there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. Today’s guest blogger, Eshe, went through all of those things, but she didn’t quit, she recognized her own limits and she found a way to make it. Eshe shared her story—struggling and succeeding as an engineering student—through our internal blogging network recently and after I got chills from reading her post, I just knew that someone out there would benefit from hearing her story. (What I didn’t expect was to run into her while I was on a work trip to Arizona a few days later and have her also recognize me because we’ve been following each other on Twitter for ages! Even though I have over 100,000 Intel family members, it never ceases to amaze me how “small” the world really is.) But I digress…here’s Eshe for you!

When I was little, I loved math and reading. I was very shy and numbers and books did not require me to speak. I had an incredible 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Warrior, who encouraged me to enter the Mathaton, a school wide math problem solving competition, I placed fourth; I still have that medal.

My parents encouraged my nerdy pursuits. I joined the Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement club (M.E.S.A) in middle school. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I was in the National Honor Society, the 2nd chair clarinetist in the marching band, the recording secretary for Student Council, a state qualifying track athlete and received the honor of being named Most Effective Attorney at the State Mock Trial competition. For spring break my senior year, I was selected as one of the high school seniors to fly to Florida and job shadow N.A.S.A engineers. I was ecstatic to return from that trip to find that I was a finalist in the National Society of Black Engineer’s scholarship and that I had been accepted to Northwestern University’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. I do not say these things to brag, I am simply laying the ground work for the next chapter. I had confidence. I loved school. I loved learning. I was an “all around” student.

EsheAwards.jpg A few of the awards I amassed in High School

I was put on academic probation my freshman year in college and nearly failed out of school. How did that happen?

When I got to Northwestern, I took the same approach I always take to life—dive right in. I joined several student groups, the University Marching band, was helping produce a radio show, performing in a dance troupe, maintaining a work study job, and did I mention the parties? It was great! I remember sitting in 400 person Chemistry and Calculus classes thinking…am I the only one NOT getting this? It had always been so natural, was this supposed to be so much work? I sat silently not asking questions for fear that someone would discover I did not really belong. I never went to office hours, did not attend the tutoring available (my pride wouldn’t let me, I was always the student tutoring others –it’s how I made my money in high school!); I was over-extended on every front.

When I received my first quarter grades, Chemistry – D, Calculus – D, and a letter informing my parents that I was to be put on academic probation and had two quarters to turn it around, I was devastated. I cried all night. I had NEVER failed at anything. I didn’t know what to do, so I did more of the same my 2ndquarter, with the same results. I knew that I had one more quarter to pull it together or my big dreams of becoming an engineer would be dead.

I went to see my academic advisor and we had a very real discussion about whether I thought I was capable of continuing in the engineering curriculum. Several of my friends had transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences. I knew that if I ran from this, I would be afraid to tackle anything in life. I really did enjoy programming, I couldn’t say the same for Chemistry, but I knew that I could be successful, I just wasn’t sure how. I told my advisor that I was going to stay the course.

I did some serious house cleaning that final quarter of my freshman year. I quit the band. I cleared my social calendar, I discovered tech tutoring, and I went there--every night. I did extra problems, I was assigned a mentor, 2 in fact, and I took only 3 instead of 4 classes my 3rd quarter. I was in every office hour. I asked questions in class, even with the fear of being seen as the stupid one, and was surprised to know that other people in the room were wondering the same thing. When I received my 3rd quarter grades, I was SO excited – B, B+, A! I had avoided being kicked out of school, but more importantly, I had learned how to tap into the resources available to me.

EsheGradPhoto-e1563823119690.jpg Graduation day - I did it!

A few months ago, I heard about the Stay With It program, and it struck a chord with me. The program is focused on reducing the attrition rate for students in engineering programs across the country by giving them hands on experience earlier in their coursework, providing them with the tools: tutoring, mentoring, early immersion; that they need to perform successfully.

This summer, Intel will host "The Ultimate Engineering Experience," a series of engineering "boot camps" at all of our major sites, to better equip engineering students. I have already signed up to volunteer, because were it not for the people who took the time to pour into me, I would not be here. I have been where these students are, I know how tough it can be, and I’m here to tell you: YOU CAN DO IT! There’s a world of opportunity that your engineering degree will bring you, at Intel and elsewhere. Your skills, expertise and ideas will help shape the future of technology and our world. Stay with it!