STEM clubs create spaces for female students

Judy Feng and Mady Zirlin

On the day of her first Coding Club meeting as a freshman, junior Catherine Peng walked into a room full of male members. As the only female in the room and a transfer student to Glenbrook North, Peng felt disconnected with the rest of the club and was not sure how to start up a conversation with the boys.

“It was really awkward having to walk in and … I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” said Peng, co-founder of Girls Who Code at GBN, in a video conference. “I was an awkward freshman and I didn’t know anybody.”

This year, Peng is a part of Coding Club’s leadership team. As a student interested in computer science and information systems, Peng said she is conscious of the fact that she is the only girl on the team. 

With GBN’s chapter of Girls Who Code, Peng said she feels as if she has people she can relate with and talk to about computer science, which was an aspect she thought was missing in Coding Club. 

“The initial hope for … the regular Coding Club was that we would have that mixture of both girls and guys and, like, other genders, but that’s clearly not what happened,” Peng said.

Steve Goodman, sponsor of GBN’s chapter of Girls Who Code, said in a video conference that part of the reason the GBN chapter was founded this year was to help reduce the gender gap in the technology field and to give girls and nonbinary students an opportunity to learn about technology and coding.

Joan Misner, integration engineer for NASA, said in a video conference that more women are needed in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.

According to the State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020, women earned 45 percent of the doctoral degrees for science and engineering in 2017 but only accounted for 29 percent of the workforce in STEM fields that same year.

“We need to change that dynamic [that] women aren’t just there to take notes,” said Misner. “They’re not just there to be bystanders, a lot of them are currently running projects, a lot of them are currently … running teams and so having more females in [STEM] will kind of change that stigma for [the] current environment and future environments as well.”

These stereotypes, along with the lack of prominent female role models, are reasons why STEM fields have been and continue to be male-dominated, Misner said. Having more clubs is important for opening up the STEM fields to women at an early age.

GBN’s chapter of Society of Women Engineers Next, also known as SWEN, is another club for girls interested in STEM fields.

Senior Lucy Traub, co-founder of GBN’s chapter of SWEN, said in a video conference that the club was founded in an effort to create an additional engineering community for female students at GBN. 

“[SWEN is] allowing those girls to have a voice and have a say,” Traub said.

According to Peng, clubs focusing on creating a female community are important as they provide young women with more approachable opportunities to get involved in STEM fields. 

“I think encouraging and nurturing and having a safe space for people to express their interest [in STEM] and be comfortable in doing so is really important in increasing [diversity].

“Your life and your passion … all stem from what you explore and what opportunities you make use of in high school,” Peng said.