I’m sure by now through your Facebook or twitter scrolling you have come across the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed. Even those of you who are not politically motivated in the least have probably stumbled across the story of the 14-year old boy who built a clock and was told to put it away because it could be perceived as a bomb. You have surely heard that the boy was then arrested later on that day because the sound of his success rung in class when the clock worked and the alarm went off. Though I would be missing a perfect opportunity for a political blog post, I will refrain because to me there is no argument. I attended a public high school, I endured bomb threats, this didn’t even begin to fit the criteria of one- this was an act of racism. However, as an engineering student who has been in love with the sciences all her life, there is a more outrageous crime at hand- the stifling of a child’s passion.
Upon enrollment in my current engineering program, my instructors tried to prep me for the rigor that I was going to endure in the next four years of my life. Many would start the race but few would finish. I had a class my first semester of my freshmen year specifically meant to mentally and emotionally prep the engineer for what they were about to invest their time in, making sure that we knew exactly what we were getting into. Through this course I learned that, whether you know it or not, successful engineers are created at birth. Those annoying children who always are asking “why?” or “how does that work?” usually are also the ones to figure it out themselves. The kid that takes apart the VCR and puts it together again. The one that likes to play with legos, likes to stay outside, likes to observe the natural world around them- that is a kid that has the love of science and logic bred into them. That is the kid that will push our world forward with their use of innovative engineering.
When I heard this story I was sad because Ahmed was obviously this kid. In college, inventions such as his are common. I am friends with clock builders, program writers, the kinds of people who make their calculators say their names on a Saturday night instead of attending a frat party. Last year, when the #BeAnEngineer hashtag (A hashtag I proudly sport in my twitter bio) exploded, I was sure that all people would be more aware that there are people like Ahmed out there-that they have existed since birth. However, this story proved me wrong. While a police officer was arresting Ahmed (again, a 14 year old boy) he asked him “why would you build a clock?”. I’m sure Ahmed didn’t even have a response because he and I are the same. Because it’s fun, because he found it interesting, because it’s second nature to him. It’s like playing with legos, working on a car, going to the gym. He even mentioned that he has numerous other inventions of his lying around at home. Making things is his hobby, his passion. Why wouldn’t he make a clock? I have an uncle who does these things all the time and I don’t think anyone in my family has ever asked him why he does it. He enjoys it, its how his brain works, he just does it. While I’m not like Ahmed in that I’ve never built a clock, my brain works just like his. I like fixing stuff. Whenever something doesn’t seem to work as it should, I find it really fun to play with it until it does work correctly. See what makes it work, compare it to other things, understand all of its functions instead of just using it. I like cooking things, building things, creating things. Understanding all of these things in their completeness. There is a high we get from getting things. Getting why a math problem is done the way it is, not just knowing how to do it. Getting why roads and bridges and neighborhoods are laid out the way they are. I can completely identify with Ahmed. I know why he wanted to build a clock.
However I think the saddest part of this story is on the teacher’s part. I became an engineer because a teacher in high school looked me in the eyes and told me that he believed in me. I could do this. It would be tough, but I would be one of the ones that finished the race. I can’t count the number of days that we didn’t have class, just talked about college. Those are the hours that built me. Two years later and I still reflect on those conversations as I study late at night instead of hanging out with friends. Here, however, we have an example of a teacher stifling Ahmed’s dreams. Instead of a “how cool!” he got a “put that away!”. I mean, isn’t anyone else amazed that a FOURTEEN year old made a clock? Doesn’t that just blow you away? Ahmed made something and found a teacher he thought he could identify with and that teacher proved him wrong that day. I can’t imagine what disappointment he felt. His creative mind was put second to racist paranoia and I truly feel for him from the bottom of my heart. Before I wanted to become an engineer, I was dead-set on becoming a teacher. To this day I plan on getting my masters in Engineering simply so I can teach if I ever decide that’s what I want to do. Next semester I will be teaching a Calculus class. Lighting the same fire in others that was lit in me is very high on my priority list and God gave me a teacher’s heart. I can’t imagine a student choosing me to share their accomplishments and passions with and me just completely shutting them down. No person who can look a boy in the eyes and tell them that their creation must be hidden should be a teacher. Period.
Ahmed, if you for some reason ever stumble across this blog post one day, I hope you know I believe in you. I too am part of a minority in the engineering field and I too wake up every day having to prove myself to others who feel like they are more worthy of this education. I work in the office of the Dean of Electrical Engineering and just the other day he was expressing that he wants his students to tinker with things, go home and build things. He said that that is what makes a great engineer. You fit the bill. I hope you go to MIT, get a great education, and keep on pushing limits because that is how all great things have came to be. #BeAnEngineer.