The Gender Gap: Strides for More Female Representation in STEM at Wayne Hills

Julie Bae at the Physics Olympics

Julie Bae at the Physics Olympics

By Anzor Mustafa, Staff Writer

Around the world, there is a clear divide in the STEM industry—men have traditionally dominated that space. Women only make up about 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Julie Bae, a junior, knows the tale of being “the only one in the room” all too well. In her participation in extracurriculars, which matches her passion for the sciences, she has been the only female in many of the meetings.

She joined the Engineering club to gain knowledge and experience about a STEM topic she was passionate about. Bae wanted to see if she would enjoy it and pursue it further as a career. As the school year progressed, her love for science and math transcend that of the liberal arts.

At most Engineering club meetings, there’s one other girl Julie noted, making it less awkward and an “overall pleasant experience” being in that club.  However, this was not the case for the Physics Olympics, where she was the only girl to participate from Wayne Hills.

Wayne Hills hosted the annual Physics Olympics, the NJAAPT North/Central at school for the first time. During this Bae competed with other classmates. She’s eager to see more female representation in the future.

One reason there may not be as much representation is that women are discouraged to pursue STEM careers, or “are afraid of finding themselves in the position I was in at the Physics Olympics” Bae commented.

Standardized test scores demonstrate that women and men both have equal academic potential in all STEM fields; however, the same cannot be said for engineering and computer science because there is not enough data to be collected.

In 2021, WHHS earned the College Board, AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science Principles. This award enshrines the strides made by students and staff for a more gender-inclusive atmosphere.

Despite this achievement, men still mostly dominate those spaces and there’s much more to be done. In the press release, it stated that female students are still underrepresented in Wayne Hills computer science classes. They only account for  34% of AP Computer Science Principles participants and 25% of AP Computer Science A participants.

“Gender inequity in STEM fields is a longstanding issue, not just at Wayne Hills but worldwide!” said AP Physics teacher and Engineering Club advisor, Ms. Sherger. She said that one of her goals is to attract more female members to participate. Nonetheless, she noted that the club was founded by two female Hills students—Divya Yagnamurthy and Nicki Jariwala, nine years ago.

Over the years, the club has had female club officers and Physics Olympics team members. Since last year, there has been a significant decline in female membership. Only 8 out of the 39 different students who have attended meetings this year have been women. One of the regular attendees has been Julie Bae. She built a “Zero Impact Vechile” which was designed to start eight meters from a wall and move to its stored power to get as close to the wall as possible. “She(Julie) was an integral part of our Physics Olympics Team… Hopefully, more female students will hear about the cool things we are doing in Engineering Club and join us!”

As girls continue to engage in STEM and pursue their passions for science and math – they undoubtedly change the world and close the gender gap.