Nonfiction in response to Gender Equality
May 2018
By Ilana Arougheti
Image Credit: Ilana Arougheti

Women comprise about 49.6% of the current population, yet hold only 24% of STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) jobs. In today’s fast-paced industrial climate, this percentage is disconcertingly low. As the next wave of career professionals, today’s students are coming to recognize this problem and push for more female empowerment in STEM fields. And having noted a similar inequality between male and female science-program staff in their own classrooms, the Women in Science club at Cherry Hill High School East intends to become a part of the solution to this trend.

           

“There is very much a disparity between the amount of men and women in science fields, particularly in computer science and engineering and other more technical fields,” explained Sophia Liang, a current co-president of Women in Science. Liang, working alongside co-president Sachi Desai, regards the club as a platform to provide girls with knowledge and confidence that they can apply toward the pursuit of careers in STEM.

           

Women in Science was founded in 2014 by Adel Boyarsky, who graduated from East in 2015 and now attends the University of Pennsylvania. Four years later, the club is managed by a board of students and boasts about 40 active members. The club is open to students of all genders, although most active members are female.

           

Along with regular monthly or bimonthly meetings, the club takes field trips to laboratories and museums in order to expose members to opportunities in science. Recent destinations included the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, a museum of medical oddities, and the University of Pennsylvania, where members got a glimpse into the realm of higher science education. The club also pursues global advocacy with bake sales and other fundraisers to benefit the Malala Fund. Named after activist Malala Yousafzai, the fund promotes education for girls in underdeveloped countries.

           

Liang and Desai are particularly proud, though, of their efforts to expose club members to the wisdom of guest speakers. In an effort to bring in the perspectives of people both old enough to be experienced and young enough to be relatable to high school students, they have invited everyone from female medical professionals to M.D.-Ph.D. students, who educated members about their experiences pursuing a dual degree. In order to involve other members of the student body, the club recently reached out to the members of Y-Naught, an all-girl robotics team within East’s robotics program. They spoke to club members about “the actual discrimination they have faced in robotics,” according to Liang.

           

When deciding how to best address the dearth of women in science careers at a local level, the members of Women in Science regard negative social stigma as a key issue. Even before women arrive at higher education opportunities or actively apply for STEM jobs, they face micro-aggressions as young students that may limit their self-esteem in the future.

 

“Even at a school like East, where girls aren’t, like, being actively told ‘You can’t do science,’ there might not be an achievement gap, but I think there’s still very much a confidence gap,” Liang said.

The ‘confidence gap’ refers to a disconcerting tendency among women currently in STEM careers, who tend to ascribe their success to external factors like luck no matter how successful they have been on their own merit and therefore “feel like impostors,” as Liang describes it.

           

Even Liang herself has not been immune to some of the pressures that can discourage girls from pursuing STEM hobbies and other intellectual interests. “Growing up, I was always called the ‘know-it-all’, whereas none of my guy friends were,” Liang remembers. “I think girls who are dedicated and intelligent and work hard can be perceived as bossy or show-offy, whereas guys aren’t.” At East, the science program is fairly expansive, with a number of introductory courses, elective opportunities, and Advanced Placement classes. However, Liang noted that only about one-third of science staff are female, and thus there are nearly twice as many male staff members as female staff members involved.

           

Liang and Desai hope, though, that younger members of the club will be able to draw upon their positive experiences at Women in Science meetings to overcome any such bias in their own lives.

           

“There are so many subfields within the field of science, and there’s really something for everyone,” Liang said. “I think it’s important for girls to have the confidence to get involved.”

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