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Sadie Holmes ’16 Examines Gender Gap in STEM Fields in Brace Presentation

After analyzing responses to the survey she sent to Andover students this past summer, Sadie Holmes ’16 noticed a disparity between girls and boys in the fields of science, technology, math and science (STEM). As one of the four Brace Center for Gender Studies fellows, Holmes addressed the role of gender in STEM fields in her presentation, “Women in STEM: Why So Few?” last Monday.

As a student passionate about STEM, Holmes explored the origins of gender gaps in STEM from early childhood, throughout women’s educational journeys and into their experiences in the workforce.

“The experience of girls in STEM here at Andover is truly a fortunate one. For the most part, we have a very accepting community that encourages girls to pursue what they want. However, there are very subtle undertones of discrimination and unfairness in math and science classes,” said Holmes during her presentation.

She continued, “I’m hopeful that as our community learns about subtle bias and discrimination against girls who are not only pursuing STEM but are doing any number of things, girls will feel more confident in their abilities and more empowered to pursue STEM in college and beyond.”

In her presentation, Holmes discussed how Andover can support the academic careers of women in STEM, arguing that the school must provide the resources and mentorship in its educational settings to ensure that women can achieve growth and satisfaction in their professional lives.

“Getting girls interested in STEM is hard. It takes both a cultural shift to appreciate and celebrating girls who pursue STEM at any level and a systemic shift that ensures girls are getting the support they need,” said Holmes.

Holmes was first inspired to pursue her interest in the lack of women in STEM after she took Biology 580 as an Upper.

“I’ve always loved math and science and the challenges they provided with me. After talking with my incredible [biology] teacher [Catherine] Kemp, who told me about how she left research to become a teacher because she feared she wouldn’t be able to have a child and keep up with her work, I began to wonder what the experience of a woman in higher levels of STEM would be like,” wrote Holmes in an email to The Phillipian.

Holmes found that one solution to the gender gap in STEM might be creating more engaging beginner level science and math classes at Andover through group projects and student collaboration. In addition, she found the need for more female role models and a stronger mentorship system in STEM.

“We should have a stronger mentorship system, whether that be a formal one that pairs younger girls seeking tutors with older girls who will not only tutor them but also mentor them and be friends with them, or an informal one where teachers build stronger relationships with their students and seek to provide constructive feedback that would allow them to improve their skills,” said Holmes.

Holmes found the most important factor in the gender gaps in STEM fields is the lack of awareness about this problem.

“Something that shocked me as I was writing this paper was how few people even realized this might be a problem at Andover and beyond… I hope with this project I’ve spread some awareness of the expanse of the problem and have incited some people to think different about STEM at Andover and what we can do to encourage girls to pursue STEM,” said Holmes.

Holmes’s faculty advisor, Dr. Christine Marshall-Walker, Instructor in Biology, pitched ideas for her research and provided her with constructive criticism. “[Holmes] was very well prepared, very well researched and I love that she had her own study and her own research through the survey. [Holmes] brought back… her project to Andover by having ideas and potential solutions for increasing the confidence and support of girls taking STEM classes,” said Marshall-Walker in an interview with The Phillipian.

The Brace Center is an academic resource center where students and faculty work together on gender based research projects.

Nov 9, 2015