Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

National STEM interest levels are rising and reflected in FSHA curriculum

There is a serious lack of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but educational initiatives in recent years are working to decrease the gender gap.

Traditionally, men are encouraged as young boys to develop an interest in STEM by building with LEGOs while girls are relegated to playing with Barbie dolls.

Senior Alejandra Gurrola reflects the exception to the stereotype: “I’ve always had an interest in STEM as a child, even before I realized that society dubbed it as a male-dominated field.”

The Committee on STEM Education, which was established in 2011 to coordinate federal programs and activities in support of STEM instruction, is working in association with the U.S. Department of Education to increase federal dollars to promote STEM education. This will cross all grade levels, from preschool on, and will serve minorities, a category which includes women, that are underrepresented in STEM fields.

According to the Department of Education, STEM jobs will increase 14% over the next five years, which means that women will have more opportunities to enter the field.

Ms. Jeannie Finley, academic technology and library services director, thinks that getting more girls involved in STEM fields during high school is important because they typically have no developed interest in those subjects as young children.

According to the Department of Education, “only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career.”

Senior Danielle Fradet wants to pursue environmental science in college and claims “STEM has always been apart of my life. It is interesting to me because it allows me to be curious and make observations about the world around me.”

One solution to increasing STEM interest is to have a computer science college requirement.

“We need to have people understand the basics of computer science; it should be a core literacy taught in schools, yet it’s not a UC requirement,” advocates Ms. Finley.

Another solution would be to require that all students take four years of math and four years of science classes in high school.

FSHA has a developing STEM program with new classes and clubs popping up to reflect students’ growing interest in these fields including the new Honors Scientific Research class which begun this year for eight seniors who want to pursue a career in science.

More elective science classes are offered through the Online School for Girls (OSG), including marine science, and genetics and human biology.

Tologs are now able to delve deeper into technology by joining the Tolog Tech Team, a group of students who provide tech assistance at through the laptop boot camp for freshmen orientation.

Engineering-oriented minds have long had the option to take robotics as a semester elective, but now a year-long class called Introduction to Engineering is available through OSG.

“As engineering starts to take the world by storm, I recognize that a worthwhile college experience for me would include both a STEM major and a business/economics major,” says senior Electra Williams. “In this way, I can double major and work to obtain the best of the two main academic spectrums, preparing myself for a multitude of career options.”

Mathematically gifted students who have completed AP Calculus AB before senior year now have the option to take higher math classes, such as AP Calculus BC, multivariable calculus and linear algebra, through OSG.

AP Computer Science is offered through OSG for juniors who have completed Algebra II and have had previous exposure to programming. For those not ready to take on the challenge of the AP, Programming for Beginners, taught by Ms. Finley, is a new elective this year. It is considered a “blended class,” meaning that the seven students enrolled are taking the course online, but there is a teacher on-site to whom they can go to for questions and clarification.

“The main goal for me is that people understand how programs work and how to fix a program that’s not working correctly, that they understand the logic and order of operations and learn to think like a programmer,” said Ms. Finley.

Gurrola, a member of the Tolog Tech Team and an advocate for women in STEM, is the founder of a new academic co-curricular called Code Crew, which gives students the opportunity to learn how to code.

“I started my club at the end of last year because there was a serious lack of STEM activities and projects in the school,” says Gurrola. “I believe that all people should have a chance to do what they love – they can’t know they love it if they’ve never had the exposure to it.”

—Cailynn Knabenshue

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