Female enrollment in advanced STEM courses increases

october cover story

Several STEM courses at TPHS have seen an increase in female enrollment this school year, according to the teachers of those classes.

Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles, with only seven girls enrolled last year, has tripled to 22 in its two class periods.

Brinn Belyea, who teaches the class, credits word-of-mouth encouragement for the increase.

“Computer science is a good career and more people want to pursue it now,” Belyea said. “I think more students in the class encourage their friends to take computer sci.”

In the physics department, AP Physics teacher Eli Aghassi also noticed more female students enrolled than before in his classes. The AP Physics 2 class saw a jump from four to seven female students in total enrollment — nearly a 7% increase.

His AP Physics 1 classes tell a similar story. In the two periods of AP Physics 1 he teaches, the total enrollees, male and female, increased by 27%. Of these additional students, 50% were girls.

STUDYING STEM: Students in Eli Aghassi’s AP Physics 2 class build a rocket during a lab. This class saw an increase of 7% in female enrollment this year.

Throughout his years of teaching, Aghassi said he has always encouraged female students in his college prep Physics classes to continue enrolling in more advanced physics courses.

“I push that hard in my regular physics class — the idea that there should not be a disparity in physics achievement between any of the genders,” Aghassi said.

In an effort to limit the inherent bias in the STEM industry, Aghassi assigns his students research assignments on influential female scientists and engages in relevant discussions during Women’s History Month every year.

“We have not made a lot of headway on this implicit bias. This is how we fight those biases by proving through action [and] through representation that everyone can achieve according to their merit, not according to our predetermined sex,” Aghassi said.

Belyea also sees the increase in female enrollment as a positive trend toward a more inclusive environment on campus.

“I hope that every student feels comfortable to take whatever class they want to get into college to learn, to prepare for their future and to take classes they find interesting,” he said. “There should not be any barriers to students enrolling in any class.”

Audrey Adams (12), a student in Belyea’s AP Computer Science Principles class, has recognized the increased gender diversity in her classroom this year compared to her AP Physics 1 class last year, which she says had fewer female students.

“I do not feel like there is an overpowering amount of men in the class compared to women. I think we have a pretty balanced distribution,” Adams said.

She and others have encouraged female students to take AP Computer Science Principles, emphasizing that more systematic change is needed for greater gender diversity in STEM courses.

“I think it can sound intimidating to people [to enroll in AP Computer Science Principles], so that might shy them away from it,” Adams said.

Cindy Xue (11), a student in AP Physics 1, said that improving gender diversity in STEM classes is essential to combating the stereotypes that exist in the STEM field.

“STEM jobs have always seemed male-dominated. But now more girls are interested in coding and creating these projects,” Xue said.

With plans to study data science in college, Xue founded the club chapter Girls Who Code with the mission of increasing the number of women pursuing computer science. She was inspired to open the TPHS branch by the increasing participation among her female friends in STEM classes at school.

Another female student, Nikki Quinn (12), created Society for Women in Engineering club to bring together STEM-enthused female engineers to combat the idea of women being a minority in the industry.

“Women are currently a minority in the STEM industry, but participation in clubs like this can start to change that,” Quinn said. “The recent increase of girls in scientific classes has taught not only women but also all of society that females can and will dominate in the STEM field … Us girls can inspire one another to follow our passions while proving to everyone else that they should judge us by our brains and not by our gender.”

While the gender balance in classes on campus continues to improve, students and teachers observe that true diversity has yet to be achieved. TPHS teachers like Belyea and Aghassi, along with female student leaders in STEM, are committed to making TPHS an inclusive environment for female students interested in pursuing careers.

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