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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Gender disparities prevalent in various STEM courses

Walk into Kirk Davis’s first-period AP Physics class, and at first glance it seems to be a class like any other. Look more carefully, though, and realize something strange: Only seven of the students are girls. 
With an overall ratio of one girl to every three boys, AP Physics seems to be an unpopular subject among the school’s female population. On the other hand, college-prep physics, strangely enough, has almost a one-to-one ratio. Other class’s gender ratios can also be surprising: AP Literature and Drama have around twice as many girls as boys, while AP Calculus BC, AP Computer Science and Introduction to Engineering and Design have around three times as many boys as girls. 
In fact, the gender imbalance in many science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields has been around for many years.
As a chemical engineering major in college, Davis recalled that there was only one girl in a class of around 150 people. Even his son, as a Carnegie Mellon computer science major, joked his class had “more Kevins than girls.” 
Similarly, AP Computer Science teacher Debra Troxell said she was frequently the only female — or one of two — in her higher-level engineering classes — a disparity that didn’t bother her. 
“If you are studying what you want to study, then why would it bother you?” Troxell said. “I was interested in engineering, and it did not bother me one bit that they were mostly guys.” 
Troxell said the gender gap may be caused by girls’ lack of confidence or interest in STEM classes. 
“I genuinely feel that there isn’t any reason [for the lack of females in STEM fields],” Troxell said. “I don’t know why the girls aren’t interested because they are completely, 100 percent capable — just as much as the guys.”
Davis also said these factors as well as peer pressure could contribute to the imbalance. 
“I’m sure some girls feel they aren’t good enough, but they’re 50 percent of the best students in science and math, and girls have half the best ideas,” Davis said. “[It’s also caused] partly [by] interest, or maybe it’s more OK for a boy to be more nerdy than a girl, even in Saratoga.”
Despite all this, society has been showing trends of increased female participation in various STEM fields. Compared to decades ago, the gender ratio in these traditionally male-dominated fields has improved dramatically.
According to Troxell, the female enrollment in AP Computer Science has gone up in small amounts each year.
“Only about seven or eight years ago, there were only two to four girls in each [of my classes],” Troxell said. “Now, seven out of 27 [students] is the lowest percentage [in a class]. The trend is good, but I would love to see it fifty-fifty.”
Even so, there is still a long way to go before women are equally represented in STEM fields. AP Physics students Lauren Lin and Erica Tran, both seniors, have seen the gender differences.
“I think it mostly has to do with the careers that come from taking physics,” said Lin, who took the course her junior year. “Most people who take AP Physics see themselves in a career that involves physics, and as for now those careers are dominated by males.” 
Strangely, AP Chemistry and AP Biology are not as impacted in terms of gender difference as AP Physics; AP Chemistry has an almost equal number of boys and girl this year while slightly more girls take AP Biology, according to there is almost an equal ratio in the former while the latter slightly favors girls, according to registrar Jeanne Jamieson. 
Tran thinks some girls choose not to take certain classes because their friends do not, which exacerbates the disparity. Yet, despite the high percentage of boys in AP Physics classes, Lin and Tran both said they do not notice the lack of the female representation in their class.
“When I’m in Physics I don’t notice [my classmates’ genders],” Lin said. “I just notice ‘Wow, these people are really smart’; for me it has nothing to do with [the fact that] they’re all guys, it just happens that [it is so].” 
Both Lin and Tran encourage other girls to take Physics in the future.
“Why not have more girls in Physics?” Tran said. “It exposes girls to STEM fields.” 
 
 
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