Inspire – Women of Dartmouth Stories

Still Making Mistakes

I arrived at Dartmouth from Silicon Valley as part of the first freshman class with women, having basically zero knowledge about the college and its reputation. All I knew is that there was a lot of hiking and there were a lot of computers. There is no doubt that my Dartmouth experience shaped my personality. One of the first things I learned was how to express myself (aka learned how to cuss). My vocabulary also expanded rather quickly as I was called names that I’d never heard. I got used to being the only woman in a situation, and that turned out to be extremely useful for my career as a physicist.

One story illustrates just how clueless I was when I started. During my senior year in high school, I endured several college interviews (and yes, I turned down Harvard). Walking into a group interview for Dartmouth rattled me, as all the other interviews had been one on one. As I walked in, the leader said “well, this is a first for us.” It took me years to realize that what he meant is that I was the first woman they’d interviewed. Duh. At the time, I had no idea. All I could think of to say was “me, too. I’ve never faced a firing squad before.” And in the end, it turned out that humor was in fact an effective weapon for deflecting the barbs that came my way.

All of my most important lessons were learned during those precious four years. Doing physics homework taught me that doing something worthwhile takes a long time, and usually can’t be done without help. Working at the radio station taught me that if you make a mistake you don’t actually die, even if you are live on the air. Joining Cabin and Trail taught me that as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you eventually get there. And most importantly, you just can’t let people push you around.

Looking back at a long career as a professor of physics and astronomy, I realize that I’ve done a lot of stuff and that some of it was actually useful to people. But my greatest achievement is still my two daughters, of whom I am so very proud. And I couldn’t have done it without help; my husband John was there the entire time. Along the way, I made basically every stupid mistake known to humankind. I still get mad when I make mistakes, but I know they won’t kill me (at least so far!) Now that I’m getting old, I am content to be a full-time grandma. I hold long conversations with dogs and small children. I continue to learn things and make lots of mistakes. It’s still fun.

1 thought on “Still Making Mistakes”

  1. Great story Kathy!

    I too felt like a fish out of water my freshman year at Dartmouth. I was born and raised in SoCal (Garden Grove) and had never been east of Arizona, flown on an airplane or seen snow fall (that freshman winter was BRUTAL!). Fortunately, I had immediate friends playing on the football team along having my twin brother (Kirk) and best friend (Dan Pulvers) attending Dartmouth as well.

    I commend you and all our other women classmates for such a momentous achievement, being the first class of co-eds, something you should be tremendously proud of.

    All my very best, Kipp Barker

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *