By Kristin Schultz
Companies and educational institutions from preschools to universities are evaluating practices and procedures related to increasing the number of women working in science fields.
Last spring, the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education tasked William Wales, the district’s math director and Jackie Carrese, the district’s science and technology director, with evaluating gender participation and achievement in STEM programs across the district. Overall, female students in Niskayuna participate and achieve at similar or higher levels than the national average.
“Overall we’re pleased [with the findings],” said Lauren Gemmill, assistant superintendent for instruction. “[In most areas] there is no statistical difference between male and female and, where there was, it fell in line with national trends.”
Gemmill went on to say that, based on the findings, the district will now evaluate where it can improve both in providing STEM opportunities for females and increasing awareness of those programs.
STEM initiatives begin in elementary school with summer programs and Science Night. In the middle schools, students can participate in robotics clubs, summer computer programming camps and the Engineering Institute for Young Women. The opportunities expand even more at the high school with numerous after-school clubs and partnerships with RPI and Union College.
In high school level math, males and females enroll in approximately the same numbers in AP calculus and statistics. Males greatly outnumber females in the AP computer science class, which follows national trends.
Carrese told the Board of Education that, nationally, females who pursue careers in math and science tend to go into fields that directly impact the lives of others or the environment, such as biological fields. They do not, generally speaking, pursue computer science fields.
At the lower grade levels, males and females achieve at a nearly identical levels.
The same held true back at the high school levels for students taking Regents level courses and the corresponding exam.
One area the district intends to take a closer look at is the AP BC Calculus offering. At present, it is the class that shows the largest disparity between the number of males and females enrolled.
“It’s not necessarily problematic,” Gemmill said. “We just want to make sure females are aware of the class offering.”
Now that the general survey is complete and results have been reported to the Board of Education, district officials plan to take the information and apply it as they continue the process of curriculum review.
They will likely look at enhancing extracurricular options for younger students and evaluating the best ways to continue to encourage girls to become involved in and continue to be engaged in the STEM subjects.