[DETOURS] There's no me in STEM

Editor’s note: Were you born into a family with a certain profession that has been passed on from one generation to the next? Then you’ll be able to relate to Sophia’s story, born into a family of engineers – expected to be one but never wanted to be one. Get to know her story. You, too, can share your life’s greatest detours. Here’s how.

Imagine having parents who met while studying engineering in college, in one of the best engineering schools in the country and conceived not one, but two engineer sons (mechanical, and software, respectively). And then there’s you, who’s very much not an engineer but more into liberal arts.

I was born to complete our family of engineers. It all started with a dad joke on Facebook: it was about how 4 engineers would get into a car, and the car wouldn’t start. The 4 engineers in the joke were a mechanical engineer (like my eldest brother), an electrical engineer (like my father), an IT Engineer (like my other brother), and a chemical engineer. It became a running gag in our family, how I should end up being the fourth engineer to fully embody the engineering joke. However, my dad became intrigued. 

Just like any other 8th grader, I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do yet, and since I grew up in a family of engineers, I was never exposed to different fields. Along with my dad’s persistence that I become part of our family’s engineering business, an innocent joke flicked a light switch in his head. It didn’t help that I did particularly well in chemistry but to be honest, my heart was never really in it.

Fast forward to my National Career Assessment Examination (NCAE) results. It was a requirement for all students who plan to pursue the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) strand in senior high school to meet a certain grade point for STEM in the NCAE, and I’ve already heard all the cries of my STEM-focused friends who did not meet the requirement. So I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment if I actually thought that I’d make it. 

Honestly, I didn’t care much about it. I already knew at that point that I was going to pursue the humanities and social sciences (HUMSS) strand; but what shocked me was how I actually passed the STEM cut off, reaching the 90+ percentile grade, eerily close to my HUMSS grade, which was my highest, as I have expected. 

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My parents were so happy, especially my dad. They would always express their support every time I spoke about pursuing a social sciences degree, but it was like I could hear their thoughts, doubting my capability to be financially stable in the future if I don’t have a STEM degree in my resume.

I never once thought of actually pursuing STEM or chemical engineering before I saw that it was actually within arms’ reach. I was distraught for days on end, especially with my senior high school application form in hand, still thinking about which box to tick: was I going to pursue STEM or HUMSS?

Unbeknownst to me, I didn’t have the option to choose my own path anymore. My father ticked the STEM box while filling out the general information section, and I failed to notice until I was already in front of the registrar, about to submit my application. I was dumbfounded, enraged even. Yes, there were moments when I thought of pursuing the STEM field my family has always wanted, but it was always forced, it was never something I genuinely wanted, just something I thought I did.

All this time and effort I’ve spent trying to put up a front that I am capable of continuing the family legacy didn’t feel like it was part of me anymore. I may have been confused before, but when I saw that wrongfully ticked box, I just knew that the life they wanted me to live, was never the life that was mine. 

I clarified with the registrar the mistake made on my form and immediately had it changed to HUMSS; it was where my heart was, it was where I was good at, it was where I belong. 

3 years later, I graduated with honors, and now I’m a social sciences major in one of the best liberal arts schools in the country.

In no shape or form am I looking down on the people who have chosen to pursue STEM, in fact, I commend them. It was just never for me.

I have zero regrets about any of my decisions, and my whole family is actively supporting me now that I know what I want to do in life, even if it means breaking the engineering streak. After all, we don’t need to be a family of engineers, we just need to be family. – Rappler.com

Maria Sophia Andrea E. Rosello, 19, is currently a freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University.