The local schools are taking their spring break this week and I’m reminded of spring break of my junior year. I had one goal for that week: to find a summer engineering job. They’re called internships now. The best full-time engineering jobs are reserved for those with some summer experience on their resume. This had been beaten into us during the school year, so I was a bit afraid to show up after spring break without a summer job in hand.
Early in the week, I procured a position with an oil company in Odessa, Texas. There’s not much out in Odessa, just oilrigs, oil companies and dust. I was going to be a roustabout. What’s a roustabout? According to Wikipedia: ‘a roustabout is a laborer typically performing temporary, unskilled work. The term has traditionally been used to refer to traveling-circus workers or oilrig workers.’ And here I thought it was more romantic than that; a special term reserved for summer engineering students.
And an early 2010 survey by Careercast.com of best and worst jobs — based on five criteria: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress — rated ‘roustabout’ as the worst job. “Nonetheless, the anecdotal and subjective experience of an actual roustabout reveals the excitement of a challenging, adventurous job.” I had no idea just how challenging and adventurous the job would be.
My summer employment locked up, I spent the rest of spring break working on a school project. (No beaches for me. Engineering just sucks the socialization out of you for a while.) So proud of myself for taking charge of my life, I could hardly wait for the week to be over so I could share the good news with my mentor and advisor. I’ll never forget his face. Such a kind man, I expected him to be so proud of me, but in an instant he knocked down my excitement to a whimper. “Oh no you won’t,” he said. I was crushed that he didn’t share my excitement. A few days later he informed me that I would be going to Duncan for the summer to work for Halliburton. My first networking deal and all I had done was obtained the ‘worst job in the world’. I learned to ask more questions about jobs.
I spent two summers in Duncan, Oklahoma, working for Halliburton. Duncan is a very small town and opportunities for socializing were minimal. First I had to find a place to stay for the summer.
Finding a summer home in Duncan turned out to be quite the challenge. My parents accompanied me and we first looked at the two apartment complexes in town only to discover they required a yearlong lease. They didn’t take much to people, especially college students, who only stayed in their town for a short period of time. At my mom’s suggestion and as a last resort, we turned to the town’s Catholic church. Having been raised Catholic in the 1930’s she had that old time religion thing going. Whenever things got bad, turn to the Church, say the ‘Our Father’ or ‘Hail Mary’, things were going to be looking up. Nowadays they call it the ‘Secret’.
And she was right. The priest and office staff were very accommodating and offered a house for which they had become caretakers. The homeowners were on a temporary overseas assignment with Halliburton. The priest seemed glad to have someone living in it, or so I thought. There was a catch. The home came with a roommate. A nun. And not the street-clothes-wearing nuns you see today. This nun came complete with the black and white habit worn by so many movie nuns. My mom was thrilled. Could west Texas have really been this bad?
At the time I dated a guy who lived in Tulsa, about a 3 or 4-hour drive from Duncan. Expecting to spend some quality time with him when he drove down one weekend to visit, he entered the house and as I was about to greet him with a huge hug and kiss, in walks The Nun. He was a cradle Catholic, like me, but had attended Catholic schools all of his life. He had been taught by nuns, disciplined by nuns, and no doubt had some fantasies and pre-conceived notions about their life outside of church and school. Like where did they live? In a convent? In a house in Duncan, Oklahoma? He froze up. He would not even hold my hand in the presence of The Nun. By that time The Nun was more like a roommate. I had even fixed a broken towel bar in the bathroom for her, seen her in a slip and pajamas, and felt perfectly fine that underneath that habit was just another woman.
It turned out The Nun and I got along rather well. She did go on a sabbatical for part of the summer and left me alone in the house. Of course the boyfriend didn’t make it down during those weeks.
At Halliburton, I worked for four engineers, all men. I had a desk in their office area. They introduced me to the drafting pool. All women. They hated me. Their job was similar to the typing pools that still existed in this pre-computer/word processing age. Engineers provided sketches of various equipment pieces and parts and they drew them into pen and ink drawings with the correct formatting and labeling.
The lead for this group, a woman whose name I’ve forgotten, so I’ll just call her Betty the B, was nice enough at first but I really don’t believe she quite knew how to act with a female engineer. I wasn’t someone she could flirt with like the male engineers. And although she was old enough to be my mother, there was no motherly love expressed. I wasn’t from her small town and certainly a woman with education was to be feared.
The other ladies in the pool were closer to my age, but they had no doubt worked there since high school and had no desire or ambition to obtain a college education. They hated me too. Bottom line, I was the first female engineer they had ever encountered.
I went to lunch with ‘the guys’, I sat in the upscale offices, really just cubes with floor to ceiling walls and no doors, but much more than the pool had. The engineers gave me assignments to design some simple gadgets and draft them up myself. I had no need of the pool that summer. It would have been nice to have some female company, as the only female companion I had was The Nun.
I learned a lot that summer, my first real exposure to the real engineering world. I liked it; I liked the men I worked with. Funny thing, they were so supportive, and really mentored me along the way. They were patient and explained the design concepts in painstaking detail for me. The women turned out to be jealous and closed off. I hope they softened over the years. That will be good for everyone.