STEM evolves as East girls establish Girls Who Code

STEM
FRESHMEN EMILY SUMMERS (LEFT) AND ELLA TUFFNER (RIGHT) COMPLETE THEIR HONORS INTRODUCTION TO ENGINEERING & DESIGN HOMEWORK. “THERE WAS NO SPECIFIC TIME OR EVENT THAT LEAD ME TO BECOME MORE INTERESTED IN THE STEM AREA. IT WAS A MORE GRADUAL UNDERSTANDING THAT I [DID NOT LIKE] ENGLISH AND HISTORY AND MORE INTERESTED IN THE OTHER SUBJECTS, SUCH AS MATH AND SCIENCE,” SUMMERS SAID. PHOTO COURTESY OF GINA KORCZAK.

March 1st marked the beginning of Women’s History Month, when we celebrate the brave women in the past who have excelled in their fields, regardless of society’s view of them at their time. Today, many of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, such as computer science and engineering, still have a very large male presence; however, that does not stop East’s female students from pursuing their dreams.

According to Labor Department statistics, Women hold only 16 percent of our nation’s engineering jobs and only 21 percent of computer programming jobs.

“I do not feel that, in general, women are as empowered as men in STEM fields. Although many men who have careers in [STEM fields] are seen as ‘innovative’ or ‘genius,’ many women today are told that they are ‘just experimenting’ or ‘playing around’ until they find a ‘real career,’” freshman and Honors Introduction to Engineering Design student Emily Summers said.

Summers added that although she was unsure of what career path she wants to go into, she finds the STEM field very appealing and something that she plans to look into for the future.

Engineering at East

In the engineering classes at East, students learn the engineering design process in order to invent, model using 3-dimensional Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and simulation techniques, design prototypes, and ultimately test those designs to see if they work.

Senior Selena Ensalaco and Summers said that it was their parents that suggested that they take engineering courses. For Ensalaco, that motivation and the variety of engineering classes she took helped her realize that she really wanted to do civil engineering.

“So, science was definitely the first thing that spoke to me, I always enjoyed that subject in elementary, my math teacher in 8th grade opened up math to me, so that was really nice. Then, my freshman year I tool a PLTW (Project Lead the Way) course here, which is all engineering base, and I really enjoyed those classes. They were so much fun, so that’s primarily when I really got interested in STEM,” Ensalaco said.

Ensalaco added that science and math have always spoke to her, even when she was little, so she always knew that she wanted to pursue STEM, but it was her parents suggestion that helped her realize that engineering is her passion.

Engineering teacher Gina Korczak noticed that within the years she has been teaching here that there has been an increase in the amount of girls in her classes.

“When I first started teaching my class sizes were much smaller and I can go all day with just seeing one girl in my classes and now I have maybe a third of my classes as girls, so it’s definitely getting better. I think seeing me as a female in my position and teaching those classes could help [for female empowerment], but also I think parents play a huge role in helping empower there girls, so it’s definitely better and just seeing the 12 years I have taught I have gotten a lot more girls than I used to have,” Korczak said.

Sophomore and Honors Principles of Engineering student Megan Summitt explained that it was her middle school math teacher that recommended her for a Girls in STEM event at Caterpillar Inc. That was her first time being exposed to the world of engineering and she decided to take more engineering classes to cater to her newfound passion.

“That day [at Caterpillar] made me truly consider engineering as a career possibility. Her recommendation resulted in me deciding to take the introductory engineering course at Oswego East. I took it with Mrs. Korczak and throughout the course I found my passion for engineering,” Summitt said.

Summitt added that she is interested in pursuing either mechanical or biomedical engineering and is also thankful for her many STEM teachers, as well as her family, for being supportive of her passion in engineering. She explained that many women are not in the field due to the fact that they do not know that it is an option for them.

For junior Aleena Siddiqui, she realized that she wanted to pursue mechanical and electrical engineering in middle school. Siddiqui is also involved with robotics and she said that her family as well as her friends, most of them also in robotics, fully support her in pursuing a STEM field.

“Thankfully I come from a very good background, from parents, and what I do in robotics, they’re very loving and caring for it, so I personally never have [experienced any stigma for being a girl in STEM] and I hopefully never will,” Siddiqui said.

The gender disparity

There is a number of potential  reasons for why the gender gap in STEM exists.

“I think that there is an even playing field for boys and girls interested in STEM fields once girls find out that it is an option for them … Without the Caterpillar event in eighth grade I would probably not have known that this was an option for me either,” Summitt said.

She added that even though there is a gender disparity, it should not matter because if one is truly passionate about something, gender should not be a factor limiting them to pursue whatever it is.

Siddiqui added that she finds it easier to be a female interested in STEM as opposed to a male because she finds the STEM field to value women more because there are less of them and that there are less women because men like it more.

“I think there are more men in STEM because they like it more, we don’t tell men to go into nursing, we are not completely advocating for that because women are more affectionate, and men just like that field,” Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui also said that society should just advocate for whatever a girl or boy wants to do and not push anything on them. She also noticed the large male presence in the field, but she does not find any issue with it.

“The ratio in both my robotics class and engineering classes is about one to six, girl to guy ratio. It’s fine. That just means that there are less to compete with which makes me feel more special,” Siddiqui said.

Ensalaco said that she thinks that there are fewer women in the STEM fields due to social norms that have existed even in the past.

“I think history has a big contribution to [women being underrepresented in the STEM fields], because if you look back at history, women have always been considered as the caretaker. They were meant to stay home, take care of the house, cook, clean, and raise the children, so it’s just based on social standards from the past,” Ensalaco said.

AP Computer Science teachers Hayley Russell and Engineering teacher Gina Korczak have noticed the under-representation of females in STEM in their own lives.

“I do know that there is not a lot of women represented in the [STEM] field. One class that I took for computer science only had two girls, and for the second one, the specific programming class, only three out of 25 of us were female, so we are underrepresented, but I do not have any difficulty finishing and completing my programs,” Russell said.

Russell added that in her current AP Computer Science class, only 3 out of her 28 students are females, so the gender divide is still very much prominent today.

Korczak said that in her field she noticed that she was one of the only females and one of the youngest, however because she was so passionate about engineering it did not pose any difficulty.

“I love [engineering]. It combines my love of math and design and CAD and architecture and all kinds of things that were passions of mine into a career. I tell my kids all the time that it is really important to find a career that you can be passionate about because if you can find things that you love and hobbies and interests and put it into something that you do for your job every single day, it will make your life a lot more enjoyable,” Korczak said.

Korczak, however, did notice that within the years she has been teaching here that there has been an increase in the amount of girls in her classes.

“When I first started teaching my class sizes were much smaller and I can go all day with just seeing one girl in my classes and now I have maybe a third of my classes as girls, so it’s definitely getting better. I think seeing me as a female in my position and teaching those classes could help [for female empowerment], but also I think parents play a huge role in helping empower there girls, so it’s definitely better and just seeing the 12 years I have taught I have gotten a lot more girls than I used to have,” Korczak said.

AP Physics and Engineering teacher Anthony Holub explained that in his physics classes there is a pretty even balance between male and female students; however, there is still a gender disparity in his PLTW (Project Lead the Way) classes with males outnumbering females 3:1, as Korczak said. He said that he thinks that that could be due to a variety of reasons, one being that it is an elective and females may find other electives more beneficial to them.

He added that East makes its STEM classes all inclusive for males and females, however as a society there is still work that must be done.

“As a society, we still have work to do. I think there is a pronounced effort in our country and countries globally to expand opportunities and access to information for both women and men, but there are still many areas for growth to fully provide these opportunities to all females,” Holub said.

Holub said that he finds himself puzzled with the fact that there are fewer women than men in STEM fields because he believes that females are equally qualified and talented with STEM skills as men are. He said that  it will take a continued effort in the educational system and as a society to ensure that women are afforded every opportunity to learn more about STEM fields. Then, it is up to females to decide if a STEM career is right for them.

“I think everyone, myself included, has a responsibility in helping bridge the gap between men and women in STEM.  We need to continue the great work being done in our educational system and encourage the business community to help bridge the gap as well,” Holub added.

“I think history has a big contribution to [women being underrepresented in the STEM fields], because if you look back at history, women have always been considered as the caretaker. They were meant to stay home, take care of the house, cook, clean, and raise the children, so it’s just based on social standards from the past.”

— senior Selena Ensalaco

Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code is a non-profit organization that aims to empower young girls to pursue computer science. Junior Gabriela Viano was selected to participate in their summer immersion programs at AT&T last summer in Chicago and became exposed to the world of coding, which inspired her to start a club here at East.

“I applied for [the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program] and I was chosen and placed to do it at AT&T at Randolph in downtown Chicago, so I basically acted as a high school intern there, and I stayed there all summer for seven weeks. I was there everyday and I worked from 9 to 6. We stayed there and we learned how to code while we were there, and then we worked together to develop a socially impactful project there,” Viano said.

Viano worked with two other girls in the program to create a website for girls to find places with free feminine hygiene products and to find more information on female puberty. They were given resources, material, and instructors from AT&T to help them with this project.

When Viano participated in Girls Who Code, she found her passion and wanted to share that passion with the girls at East.

“I definitely want to get more girls interested in computer science and especially for girls from Oswego East and I’m trying to reach out to them and show them how it’s fun. It’s exciting to do and exciting to learn about,” Viano said.

Girls Who Code is trying to instill that interest of computer science early on, so when they grow older they know that they have that option to pursue a STEM field.

“The Girls Who Code [is] a national organization that is promoting STEM in females and it’s through that I know that there has been a lot of growth in the female population in STEM. That’s how they are giving access to the younger girls they are starting to expose them to coding and the other STEM fields when they’re younger,” Russell said.

Junior and Vice President of Girls Who Code Alexis Salinas said that she appreciates this club because it provides a safe space for girls to learn to code without being intimidated with all the men in the field.

“One of the reasons I enjoy this club is because it obviously is just for girls and it’s nice because it’s a safe environment for us to grow and learn together and it can help us introduce each other to the field of technology and engineering and coding while we’re surrounded by other girls who are also encouraging us rather than seeing all the male dominance in the field,” Salinas said.

Salinas added that she developed an interest for STEM within the past year and has a desire to pursue a career in computer programming.

Holub said that he was thrilled to hear about the Girls Who Code club starting at our school.

“Any time we can encourage females to investigate and explore STEM careers and skills is great for our future as a society, given the increased STEM careers that will be available. In my opinion, it is both right and necessary for clubs like Girls Who Code to spread information about promising careers in the STEM field,” Holub said.

The mission of Girls Who Code is simply to give girls an outlet to learn to code that may not necessarily be given to them otherwise.

“Our goal is to help girls to get into that kind of workforce since it is male dominated, and also for girls that don’t even know how to code. I personally don’t really know how to code, so we just want to help other girls at least just get into the field of it and just understand a little more about coding and what computer programming is and show that it’s not as intimidating as it is,” Salinas said.

Viano has personally experienced the under-representation of women in STEM in the classes that she has taken. In her engineering classes she usually was the only female and in her civil engineering class she is one of four girls. She said that in order for there to be more female empowerment in the STEM fields, there needs to be more female role models in higher positions to help inspire the next generation of girls.

“I think it’s just a social norm [for why there are less women in STEM fields] or it’s just something that has been integrated into society that girls are typically English majors and such, and that men have always been math and science oriented. Especially growing up, I was always taught girls are supposed to be bad a math or that if you’re pretty you’re bad at math … I think you just need to be confident and don’t let being the only girl affect you,” Viano said.

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