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Valencia High School

Mindfulness Matters: Overcoming the mental roadblocks at school as a female in STEM

Mindfulness Matters is a column by Vivian Wang that highlights the simple ways that she maintains mindfulness and self-care through the treacherous, life-changing journey of high school. In this week’s article, Wang delineates her personal struggles as one of five females in her high school computer science period.

I knew that I was up for the challenge when I checked the box for AP Computer Science A at the end of my sophomore year during registration.

Challenge accepted.

Upon walking into my computer science class on the first day of my junior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to be known by my name and not by my gender as a minority in STEM. As one of five females in a class of nearly 40 students, it’s obvious when a girl like myself with long hair and a higher voice sits in a sea of males with short hair and deep voices.

Initially, this feeling was analogous to “culture shock,” but in my case, it was a shock in gender. Throughout my life, I’ve surrounded myself with my friends, a majority of whom are females. I had never surrounded myself with so many males before. School had structured my classes to gear me towards the traditional route of humanities.

Thrown in headfirst into computer science, I did not expect myself to finish this year successfully. I pre-planned my alternatives as an escape route in case I had to drop out of the class if I could not handle the course load or felt that I did not fit in the classroom.

Reflecting on my self-discovery and growth over this past school year as a junior in my AP Computer Science A class, I am glad that my resilience and open-mindedness prevailed over the daunting thought of the common societal perceptions of females in STEM, especially in computer science.

A concept as simple as a computer science class can affect one’s overall wellbeing and mental health, especially high school females.

In a high-pressure, competitive environment where students compete for the best GPA, gender can also significantly impact a student’s mental health. When females are constantly reminded that they are the minority, it can influence their overall mindset when working.

On my first day of computer science, I walked in not knowing anyone. I tried to avoid thinking of my escape route which was to leave the class when no one was looking and take another elective with my friends.

I sat down next to a sophomore male and a sophomore female that I had never met. As I reflect on my current friendships with my friends in computer science, I have come to realize that gender is obsolete in determining one’s intellectual capabilities whether it be at school or in another professional setting.

While the first few weeks of computer science were difficult and I felt alone, I learned to adapt to the situation and socialize with both the males and the females in the class.

I feared to embrace my minority as a female in STEM because I had read so many articles of females leaving the STEM realm and instead exploring the humanities because of the pressure and stigmas surrounding females in STEM.

Looking back on my experience last year in this class, I can vividly remember the moments when I could not code the assignment and I did not have anyone to ask for help. After I came home one day during the first few weeks of computer science, I wanted to cry over my code when I realized how lonely being a female in STEM was and how I had no support system to collaboratively work through the logic of the code.

This mindset completely turned around when I reminded myself of my opportunities to grow and evolve as a female in computer science and to combat society’s social constructs of gender norms in the working world.

As I’m approaching my third year in the class, I hope to embrace my role as a minority in computer science: a female in STEM. Although there are times when it is hard to find normality when the world of computer science is so male-dominated, I have learned to grow with the environment and that this is what the real world looks like.

Female leaders at large technology companies such as Google and Apple are surrounded by a sea of males and while this is a typical situation, it is imperative that we normalize females in STEM.

“While women constitute almost 50% of the labor market, there are only 28% of women in STEM fields as opposed to 72% of men”, Vitor Silva explains, according to Built By Me.

In a sea of males in my computer science class, only 12% of the class is female. I am grateful to have grown a supportive friend circle in the class where gender is obsolete and we support each other to this day.

The challenge of being a female in STEM still perpetuates to this day but with each day, the community of females in STEM is working towards normalizing the situation. I am proud to be a part of the community to break the barriers.

Challenge accepted.