Girls in STEM

Girls+in+STEM

Anna Graham (’16) has been enthralled by computer science ever since she accidentally enrolled in a Java programming class her sophomore year. She had planned on dropping the course, until she found she actually enjoyed it.

Graham is now taking Nand to Tetris, a post-Advanced Placement Computer Science course, and applying to Computer Science university programs.

She has occasionally found herself frustrated with the attitudes and dispositions of some male students towards females. “People assume that I don’t really care about the class and that I’m not really good at it, but they don’t bother to actually listen to me to see that [they] might be wrong,” she said.

Unlike Graham, Olivia Campili (’19) developed an interest in computer science in her middle school years after participating in ‘Hour of Code’. After attending her first Java programming class at ASL and noting that there were only three girls enrolled, Campili decided to lend her support to other girls interested in computer science. “I’ve started a ‘Girls Who Code’’ club. It’s not just about coding, it’s also about what it means to be a woman in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], because there aren’t as many girls,” Campili said.

Campili remains optimistic about the future of girls in STEM, and is interested in exploring ways to encourage further female participation. “I think having more gender neutral coding initiatives would help. Not having specifically ‘girl designed things’ like a pink coding program or a blue, masculine, war-related coding program,” she said.

Campili has witnessed many shocked expressions after explaining how she is interested in both dance and code. “I feel like there is this stereotype that if you like coding, you have to only think about coding, and no sports, which is so untrue,” Campili said.

From a young age, Zara Mandel’s (’16) interests have been in biology, more specifically medicine. During her experience with AP Biology, Mandel has found that “the teachers and faculty are much more progress[ive] than the students, by a long shot. The teachers and faculty are very supportive, but the students might not quite take you seriously.”

Mandel’s frustrations are rooted in the fact that she feels students make assumptions on her academic strengths and weaknesses based on her gender. “Sometimes when I tell people I took AP Bio, they’re like ‘Oh, really, you don’t look like you like biology’ or ‘you don’t look like you’re into science’,” she said. “This confuses me because what [is] ‘looking like I’m into science’ supposed to mean? Nobody would say ‘you don’t look like you’re into English’.”

Isobel Bohmer (’16) was initially encouraged by her science-oriented family to pursue math and science courses. She eventually found herself loving the courses due to her natural curiosity.

Bohmer has found her math and science career at ASL to be overwhelmingly positive. Bohmer has noticed that “there may not be a lot of active encouragement of young women in the harder maths and science classes, but if you have the initiative, then the help is definitely there.”

Bohmer has been equally content to see a good gender balance in many of her upper level math and physics courses, and believes that the classes she’s been in have “made an effort to include and teach all genders.”

However, Bohmer believes that the mentality towards women in STEM careers is still “changing, present tense.” While Bohmer agrees that the administration and teachers are “keen on having young women involved in math and science, it is often difficult to change people’s attitudes that have been ingrained by media and society,” she said.

She has found that this attitude is sometimes apparent through the “deferring to male students [when] asking for help or if others may have questions.”

Bohmer has felt privileged pursuing STEM at ASL because the school provides a progressive bubble “I’ve spoken to friends [outside of ASL] and been asked what I was studying. I said I want to study engineering, and they made a comment like ‘but that’s a boy’s field. You’re a girl,” she said.

In Bohmer’s eyes, there are possible ways to accelerate the transition, such as government-sponsored STEM initiatives in the U.S. At ASL, Bohmer thinks a good way to support women through more challenging math and science courses would be to “provide active support in that underclassman transitional zone of moving on to more challenging math courses and overcoming the stigma.”

Without a conscious effort being made to include and encourage all genders in the maths and sciences, Bohmer believes that it is quite easy for “smart and capable young women who could be doing and enjoying math to slip off the radar.”