By: Val Vilott, Outreach AssociatePosted on June 21, 2012 Issues: Education & Title IX
  Learning “what makes cars go,”
  The author, learning “what makes cars go,” loves
mechanics almost as much as she loves equality.

When I was 14 years old, I went to aviation camp. That’s right. Aviation camp.

On the first day, we learned about rocketry. We all put together hand-made mini-rockets and trotted outside to see if we could make them fly. My rocket, on which I had carefully scribed the name “VALocity,” went higher than the rest.

As my dad drove me home that day, I interrupted my own bubbling enthusiasm for rocketry to say, “Oh. And I’m the only girl at camp.”

I’ll never forget his response: “That doesn’t matter. Girls can build great rockets, too. And cars. And airplanes. Some of my best students have been girls. Don’t forget that.”

My dad is a former helicopter pilot who never graduated college. He teaches airframe mechanics at a vocational school, and he has a knack for teaching. When I was 7, he taught me the basic concepts of flight (lift and drag). When I was 9, he took me out to rotate the tires on his car because I said I was ‘bored.’ When I was 14, we spent months piecing together what would become my first car – a Pepto-Bismol pink, 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle.

Looking back, I know that my dad understood that my interest in or ability with mechanics was neither because of NOR in spite of my gender. A basic concept that sounds kind of familiar. This Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX – which mandates equality of opportunity at all education levels regardless of gender.

That summer at camp, I adored every minute. But I was hyper-aware of my difference. To compensate for being a girl, I wore camouflage cargo pants and baggy tshirts. I did everything I could to try and better fit the mold. I learned quickly about stereotypes that I had previously been fortunate to dodge.

I didn’t know it was weird to be a girl interested in how planes fly, because a) it isn’t weird to be a girl interested in how planes fly and b) I’d never been taught that it was. My parents never limited my dreams, no matter how wild they were. Because of that, I have flown a Cessna 172 airplane, have an uncanny interest in air traffic control, and can fix most small household emergencies with a screwdriver and a can of WD-40. But not everyone is as lucky as I am to have had parents that embraced who I was – not what society said I should be.

To me, Title IX is about embodying exactly that spirit of equality: that no matter what you’re interested in, you should pursue it. And if you’re in a school, that school has a responsibility to help you do so.

Education, at its core, is about kindling curiosity and encouraging kids to break outside of their comfort zones. So today, my hat goes off to Title IX, for 40 years of pulling down barriers in education.

Girls can build great rockets. And they do, if we give them the opportunity.

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