As a female science enthusiast, I have always been puzzled by why the STEM fields continue to be so male-dominated. Embracing my love of science has been one of the transformative aspects of my life; I’ve learned how to distill complex ideas to collaborate with others, how to tackle challenges when I don’t immediately see a solution, and how to advocate for myself when I am confused.
Can you imagine a world in which all girls are encouraged to explore these same skills through science education?
I see girls in my high school receiving an education designed to make them leaders of our global world. My female peers run the school as heads of student organizations, serve as guiding voices in the classroom, and model kindness and compassion for the community. I am amazed by their strength and determination every day.
Nevertheless, over the three years that I’ve been at my school, I’ve also noticed something that troubles me: fewer girls than boys seem excited about pursuing the most challenging math and science classes. Not only are girls missing out on opportunities to bolster their confidence and personal strengths, but we also need as many people as possible ready to embrace the technological challenges that are going to be required of our generation as we confront the ramifications of climate change.
This observation led to the main question of my Advocacy project:
Why do girls progressively drop out of STEM fields as the subjects get more challenging? What resources might empower them to continue pursuing these fields?
In my GOA Advocacy class this year, one of the most important lessons I learned was to “get proximate” with the stories I want to understand. For my project, I focused on listening to these stories so that I could imagine some solutions that might inspire more girls to take challenging STEM classes at my school and beyond.
My project was split into three main parts:
- Interview junior and senior students who identify as female about their experiences in STEM, both before and during high school.
- Understand the perspectives of the heads of the Science Department and the Computer Science Department on this issue.
- Analyze data related to science enrollments at my school (this part was done by my lovely classmate Haley Wixom for her Python GOA class!).
Here were some of my findings:
- Girls tend to be underrepresented in physics and engineering classes at my school, while they make up about half of the chemistry enrollment and the majority of the biology enrollment.
- Taking the highest-level STEM classes requires a significant amount of prerequisite classes across disciplines, meaning that every student must be supported from as early as their first semester in high school.
- Many girls are more interested in a class if they know their friends (especially other girls) have taken it before or will take it with them, creating a reinforcing cycle.
- As the college process becomes more stressful, the most challenging classes are seen as “GPA killers,” and girls are hesitant to take risks with such high stakes.
- Although I was specifically looking at girls in STEM, I learned that this is absolutely an intersectional issue. The Science Department is currently examining how they can encourage more domestic students of color to take more challenging classes. I would love to explore this phenomenon further after this class.
If you would like to check out the data that was analyzed, please head over to Haley’s site! We looked at what courses girls enrolled in compared to boys in the last five years. (I will add the link as soon as Haley’s site is up and running.)
Finally, I came up with some strategies that I believe can help to support girls in their STEM paths at my school. Going forward, I plan to share my ideas with the Department Heads to determine how to make them a reality at my school.
- Host a panel of girls who have taken upper-level STEM classes around course registration season to talk about how they experienced each class. The goal of this experience would be to expose younger girls to science classes they may not have known existed or not have known other girls felt successful in. Additionally, this panel would reinforce that there are girls in every STEM class and that these subjects are not a “boys world.”
- Strengthen the peer tutoring system so that there are designated tutors, especially girls when possible, available to answer questions and review problem sets. Also, increase communication between tutors and teachers so that there is more awareness of how both can benefit each other. This system would allow people who are less confident speaking up in class to ask questions, as well as provide another layer of support.
- Post a bulletin with highlights of girls engaging in interesting STEM projects outside of class. These could include senior projects, departmental studies, or out-of-school projects and would serve to showcase the girls in