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Encouraging Women in STEM

According to the US News World Report, in 1984, 37% of Computer Science majors were women. As of 2014, that percentage has dropped to 18%. Being a woman in the STEM field, specifically in technology, has proven to be a challenging course filled with obstacles for many.

This has been the case for Ms. Laura Gray, a teacher at GSMST and a proficient programmer. She obtained her bachelor of science degree in Computer Information Systems from Indiana University and her Masters in Mathematics education from the University of Georgia. Ms. Gray teaches both math courses and AP computer Science A classes.
The computer science course taught at GSMST follows the College Board’s curriculum and adds relevant materials that would be covered in a college intro to programming course using Java. The 2017-2018 school year is the first year she has had girls in the class. “We had 0 female students enrolled last year. I have 19 this year (24%).”

Ms. Gray says she plans on recruiting more female students to enroll in the course through the establishment of a Girls Who Code club division and by allowing them to explore and be passionate about computers without the stigma that goes along with it. She is also currently developing other courses to teach in data analysis and warehousing, linear algebra/Python. She believes that the goal is to understand things like, algorithms, recursion, looping mechanisms, etc. in programming, not just one language.

I asked Ms. Gray what she thinks the main reasons are for women not staying in the computer science field. She said that women sometimes endure being talked down to, harassed, and passed over for promotion on a regular basis, so they leave. “I remember being the only woman in my C++ class. On the first day, I was asked if I was in the right room because ‘programming is a really hard class, hun.’ On a regular basis, the men in that class refused to work or listen to me, despite my answers being correct”.

Finally, Ms. Gray gave some advice for women who are interested in going into the field.
“Trust yourself and know that no matter what someone says, you’re smart and CAN do this. Embrace any help you can get from men who champion women in the field. I wouldn’t have progressed to a program management position at such a young age with General Electric without people like Robert Miller and Aaron Thomann encouraging me and fighting for my voice.”