By Annie Poole
Inequalities in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) industry are not only seen in the workplace; girls in advanced STEM classes at MIHS have unmistakable disadvantages.
Although there seems to be an even amount of girls and boys in science and math classes the first couple years of high school, there starts to be a gender gap in advanced STEM classes.
Ali Dickstein, who is currently enrolled in AP Computer Science, AP Calculus and AP Biology, has found that there are less girls in upper level STEM classes and doesn’t quite understand why.
“Girls bring a special kind of energy and a different perspective to STEM, and I think that’s valuable,” Dickstein said.
According to Daniel Yi, a biology and robotics teacher at MIHS, there are an even amount of girls in boys in his regular biology classes on average. However, there are only two girls in his robotics class and 20 boys.
When there is a discernible amount of boys outnumbering girls in classrooms, girls may feel overpowered and intimidated.
“The reputation of majority-male classes are not that great among female students, maybe because of the dynamic that an all-male environment builds,” Yi said. “It could be intimidating, and not somewhere where female students can find a community to interact and study with.”
There are many programs in the greater Seattle area that target girls, giving them opportunities to explore the STEM field. However, Mercer Island has no specific initiative to break the inequalities within STEM classes.
“Mercer Island encourages everyone equally, but in general there could be a little bit more of a push [for girls] to take STEM classes because it really is the future,” Dickstein said.
When girls see a male-dominated class, signing up for it seems unwelcoming, but teachers are trying to support girls in joining advanced STEM classes.
“If female students show enough ability to succeed in advanced STEM classes, we do encourage them to take them next year,” Yi said. “The science teachers that I work with do an especially good job reinforcing the confidence that female students gain through their successes.”
Noonie McCann, currently enrolled in AP Physics 2 and AP Calculus, also added that all her STEM teachers have been very encouraging.
According to the National Girls Collaboration Project (NGCP), female and male students perform equally as well on standardized science and math tests. However, male students are more likely to enroll in engineering and computer science courses than female students.
In addition, the rates of science and engineering enrollment for women in higher education start to take an even bigger gap. For example, women earn only about 35 percent of the undergraduate degrees in STEM, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The gender inequalities seen in STEM classes and education can also lead to inequalities in later life. The NGCP states that although women make up half the college-educated workforce, only 11.1 percent of physicists and astronomers are women, 35.2 percent of chemists are women, and 7.9 percent of mechanical engineers are women. Women also make up less than 50 percent of other areas in science and engineering.
McCann, who wants to be an electrical engineer, sees the value of girls taking advanced STEM classes in the high school so they can pursue a career in the STEM field. “I think it’s important to have girls in advanced STEM classes at the high school because those are the classes that build your confidence in STEM, showing you that difficult majors and career fields aren’t out of your reach,” McCann said.
Dickstein and McCann are co-presidents of the Women in STEM club and have started to share their passion with other girls.
Last year, they went to the elementary schools on Mercer Island and taught lessons related to STEM. “It was powerful for the girls especially to see Noonie and me, two high school girls both on the drill team, but still really love science.” Dickstein said.
Girls are encouraged to join Women in STEM Club, Robotics Club, and other STEM related clubs to help include their voices in the STEM area of MIHS.