Alyson Furstenau ‘21, Photo Editor
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) article “The STEM Gap,” women make up “only 28 percent of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math.” This is a shockingly low percentage. It could be assumed that the present day gender gap is discouraging for women looking to pursue a profession in these fields, but various interviews from female students and teachers at South Lyon High School suggest that being the minority is what encouraged them to get involved in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) based classes and career paths.
Women in STEM are often told that what they are interested in is a male dominated workforce, or that men tend to succeed in these fields more frequently than women. This, however, is not discouraging all women from pursuing STEM fields. Senior Shreya Averineni said, “There is nothing anyone can say, nothing anyone can do, and nothing anyone can change about me to change my passions.” Averineni, a driven, young woman who aspires to go into the medical field one day, is just one example of how there is strength in passion; she is currently working to provide more opportunities for driven young people just like her.
Averineni just recently founded the Future Medical Professionals Club at South Lyon High School with two of her peers, seniors Ashleigh Kilgore and Lucie Salvatore. Regarding whether the gender gap discourages her from pursuing a career in the medical field, Kilgore said, “No, if anything it motivates me more. Women are so smart, but this is often hidden by the stigma that ‘women don’t belong in STEM-based fields.’ Our only option, then, is to empower women to show their strengths where they are the minority.” There is no data to suggest that men are more capable than women in any field, and more than ever, we are seeing more and more women who are interested in going into STEM professions.
This interest for young girls in science and math starts in the classroom, and teachers are the individuals who foster these interests. But before teachers became teachers, they were students as well.
Mrs. Lynn Hensley, the Analytical Chemistry and Advanced Placement Chemistry teacher at SLHS, identified herself as being “strong willed and somewhat stubborn” when it came to being one of few females in her chemistry classes in college. The number of young women enrolling in higher level science classes, however, is starting to shift. Hensley said, “Of the 49 AP Chemistry students this year, 31 are female. It’s important for female students to have role models in the harder classes.” And it is true. When a girl can be an example for her peers, more girls will want to take on challenges just like her. It is the mentality that if she can do it, I can do it too, which is the positivity and support of other women that needs to be spread throughout the community.
As we shift our thinking towards a more positive mentality—one in which women can do just as well as men in STEM fields—it is important to recognize that success comes from drive. As long as a student is driven, they will be successful. Ms. Monica Zuzow is a perfect example of this. In regards to the gender ratio in her college math courses, Zuzow said, “The gap became more and more obvious as I reached higher level math classes. It was something that was definitely on my mind when I was the only female in the room, but since this was my calling, and since this was what I wanted to do, I wasn’t in any way discouraged.” And no woman should be discouraged if they are in the minority. We should instead see it as an opportunity to get involved in the male-dominated workforces, and as a chance to prove that there is not always power in numbers. Anyone can be successful; gender cannot determine that.
A female who aspires to go into the medical field often looks to their female science and math teachers when they feel as though they are not capable enough to succeed. They are the model of what a woman can do as long as they commit to themselves and what they love to do. Zuzow said, “When I started teaching, I realized that I also wanted to impress upon females that they can do this. We are just as capable.” Just like Averineni, Kilgore, and Salvatore, starting in high school and even before, young girls can begin to make a difference and spark change in the expectations our society has for women in STEM professions.
We will close the gender gap because when more and more women take on careers in STEM, more and more women will want to follow in their footsteps. No woman should ever feel as though they are less capable solely because they are a woman. Women can do it, and they will do it. Many look forward to the day when the STEM workforce is 1:1, but the process of getting to that equal ratio is all the more satisfying.