Students and faculty observe improvement in STEM classroom gender equality

Girls have been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes; however, over the past few years at the school, gender equity in STEM has improved significantly, according to department chair and faculty observations.

Dr. Aidyl Gonzalez, Upper School science department chair, said in her past couple years at the school, she has seen an improvement in gender equity and attempts to create an environment where all her students feel encouraged to join and participate in science classes.

“I definitely do see a transition. This is my third year at Buckley, and I see more women entering STEM, but more in the life sciences…in biology I think that both genders are participating equally. But what is still bothering me though is that most young ladies are hesitant to go into engineering, try AP Chemistry, or AP Physics,” Gonzalez said.

STEM by the numbers
STEM by the numbers

Gonzalez attributes female lack of participation in chemistry and physics classes to mathematics.

“I think there is a fear for girls in mathematics; and I think to myself ‘why?’ But it [female participation] is better than in previous years, which is why I say that we are still transitioning,” Gonzalez said.

Jocelyn Plant, Upper School physics and robotics teacher with degrees in applied physics and chemical engineering, brings her perspective of and knowledge in STEM education to the school.

“I don’t necessarily see a gender gap [at the school]. I feel like its 40-60 female to male. AP Physics C is around 11 percent female and this would be the only place I see a gender gap. In robotics, I see a lot more female students compared to my prior experience at MIT robotics competitions,” Plant said.

Plant also believes historical reasons account for gender inequity in physics.

“Historically, physics has been a male-dominated subject, particularly in the way it developed. It started in the 1600s, and wealthy white men were initially physicists because they were the ones who could afford the precision instruments to conduct experiments,” Plant explained.

In robotics and engineering, Plant has observed more female interest and involvement. She believes that bringing in an arts component and adding a creative endeavor to the curriculum remove “the historical stigma.”

“When you bring in inquiry-based STEM education, when students create their own hands-on projects based on their understanding and surround the projects around creation, that brings in a creative artistic aspect which all students are gravitated to,” Plant said.

Gender inequity is not present in math classes at the school, according to Joanne Ryan, Upper School mathematics department chair.

“I look at students as students. I just really don’t believe we have a problem that other schools have. We have some shy girls, but we have a lot of girls that aren’t afraid to speak out loud too,” Ryan said.

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Ryan attributes the gender equity in mathematics to the school’s academic and learning environment.

“At this school, it is cool to be smart and it is cool to be successful,” Ryan said. “We have a culture that says by who’s doing what on this campus that females can be just as successful and involved in math and science and whatever they decide.”

Overall, department chairs and faculty have observed the school has improved in encouraging all students to participate in STEM education.

“I think we are doing just fine. Could we do better? Of course. But there’s room for improvement in anything in life,” Ryan said.