Lady Pioneers take on STEM

Poleena Kovalaske, Reporter

Right now, some of the most driven people are the U-High women taking on the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). These individuals are enrolling in challenging classes and partaking in the STEM-oriented clubs that the school offers. One such club, a recent addition, is called Girls In STEM.

“[Girls In STEM] is a club for girls that are interested in pursuing some sort of major/future career in science, technology, engineering or math,” sponsor and science teacher Emily Telford said. Telford also helps lead the Scholastic Bowl Team. Accelerated Chemistry and AP Chemistry teacher Donieka Solberg co-sponsors the club with Telford. Their motivations for starting this club for girls go beyond getting girls excited about STEM.

“We started this club because it’s always necessary,” Telford said. “There is a huge gap in STEM fields, when you look at how many women are in STEM versus how many men, and so we are just trying to close that gap.”

“It’s been shown in research that a lot of the girls in middle school liked science and then stopped for some reason, whether it be they were made fun of or they just didn’t feel like it was right anymore,” Solberg said.

While this club continues to work toward making women feel more welcomed in a male- dominated field, there are already young women who have stepped up to the challenge of excelling in STEM. In the area of science, senior Calis Lim and junior Katlyn Hall work tirelessly with hopes of continued success.

“I am excited to see what an equal sex workforce without discrimination will be!” Hall said. “I believe my passions are strong enough to overcome any obstacle, including female minority, however cheesy that may sound.”  President and founder of Earth Club, Hall aims make the school a more eco-friendly environment and plans on taking these goals to the bigger world.

Lim, who is planning on majoring in biology, has her hands full with clubs and activities, such as Girls in STEM, Math Team and WYSE as well volunteering at ISU with a lab professor and participating in cadaver lab.

“Just going into this WYSE competition, I was the only female senior and one of the only females on the team which makes me feel underrepresented and that is something that needs to change,” Lim said.

While WYSE and Girls in STEM lean heavily on science, there are other domains that both clubs dabble in.

“Engineering Club is where we pick projects but at the same time it’s an ‘open lab’ for students to come and just try ideas out,” Cory Culbertson said. With a degree in chemical engineering, Culbertson spends his time teaching computer science and engineering classes as well as leading Engineering Club (which used to be known as Tech Club) and Scholastic Bowl.

“I think that one of the biggest things that I wanted to give my students is just an understanding of all the opportunities available in STEM fields and the skills needed to succeed within these fields, “ Culbertson said.

Multiple young women are seizing the opportunities Culbertson’s courses offer. One such female is freshman Jaelyn Kelly.

“I discovered woodworking and found that I could use it to benefit my own self or make things easier for me,” Kelly said. As part of the Engineer Club, Kelly has been working on her own projects, anywhere from a step ladder for her dog to different tools to help her perfect her golf swing.

Also a participant of Girls in STEM, Kelly added, “Back in the day, men always dominated a lot of the more physical fields but in today’s society, we have a lot more women who have been empowered to finally enter into the field of STEM.”

Jade Carthans, another freshman, already knows that she wants to either study veterinary science or become a software engineer in the future.

“I’ve done developing on an app before. I’ve also been part of a STEM Club where we made a video game and I got to code the music,” Carthans said. Having been interested in the world of STEM from a very young age, Carthans said she can’t wait to see all the new technology that grows from the increase of women within the field.

In fact, Amari Akins, Amelia Markert, and Connie Chen are just a few more examples of girls thinking about going into STEM.

“I really love science because it teaches you how things work and then to combine that with engineering to create things is just really cool and fun to me,” Markert said.

“It’s a bit intimidating, to be entering into a mostly male dominated field,” Chen said. “But I believe that women can do it because we know just as much, if not more, as men.”

Meredith Heller, a junior interested in engineering, has started her own computer coding club with middle schoolers.

“I want girls to feel really in control of what they’re doing within computer science and see how creative and fun they can make coding,” Heller said. “My goal is to show coding to middle schoolers in a way that wont make them hate it and actually show that it can be fun.”

Having had a bad experience with computer science in middle school, Heller wants to make sure that no other girl goes through the same thing or gets discouraged by the male-dominated workforce. “Being in a male-dominated field can actually be really motivating and fun. You just have to push yourself to be the best you can which is true for no matter who you surround yourself with,” Heller said.

The last component of STEM is arguably the most challenging and the least known.

While Dr. Kevin Thompson is most definitely not unknown, his more advanced classes would be described as ‘challenging’ to say the least. Teacher of AP Calculus AB, Calculus BC and college Algebra, Thompson has also led many Math Teams to victory.

“Math Team is really just an opportunity to really explore problem solving. It’s about creative and challenging questions as well as learning how to solve in groups,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, the numbers of women in mathematics has been increasing rapidly which can be seen within his own classes and Math Team. However, the problem of women not going into math-dominated fields in college comes with being uneducated in the opportunities that math holds.

“Not a lot of females say ‘I want to be an engineer or actuary’ and when they get in this mind set that those are the only two options, many won’t invest themselves in math,” Thompson said. “Knowing what options are out there and knowing that it’s possible leads to many open opportunities that many females might not have realized were there.”

Jenny Park, senior at the U, is one of the girls who knows exactly what her options are. Planning on going into finances, Park has been loading up on all STEM related classes and activities, including Math Team.

“I think that it’s recognizing that mathematics is not a male/female thing. It’s just people who think or don’t think mathematically,” Park said.

These mathematically thinking students include Britany Ziemer, Lim, Heller, Chen, Sunjana Satish and many more who have worked to make Math Team what it is today.

In the end,  Park said it best,“Being female and entering into a male dominated field comes with disadvantages, but it allows women to change the conversation and change the opinion and prejudice against women.”