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Graduating senior women are poised to take on tough STEM fields

Seniors+Helen+Zhang+and+Clara+Li+proudly+represented+Weston+as+they+won+ninth+place+in+the+Massachusetts+Women+of+Science+Competition.+PHOTO%2FMary+Liu
Seniors Helen Zhang and Clara Li proudly represented Weston as they won ninth place in the Massachusetts Women of Science Competition. PHOTO/Mary Liu

Seniors Helen Zhang and Clara Li proudly represented Weston as they won ninth place in the Massachusetts Women of Science Competition. PHOTO/Mary Liu

Seniors Helen Zhang and Clara Li proudly represented Weston as they won ninth place in the Massachusetts Women of Science Competition. PHOTO/Mary Liu


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By Alina Hachigian and Lizzie Racklin

Seniors Helen Zhang and Clara Li proudly represented Weston as they won ninth place in the Massachusetts Women of Science Competition. PHOTO/Mary Liu

With the rise of a new generation, more attention has been focused on encouraging women to pursue work in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. While these disciplines continue to be dominated by men nationally, this year’s graduating class has a number of female students pursuing these studies in college.

With the rise of a new generation, more attention has been focused on encouraging women to pursue work in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. While these disciplines continue to be dominated by men nationally, this year’s graduating class has a number of female students pursuing these studies in college.

 Senior Clara Li intends to study computer science and maybe economics in college.

“My dream is to build a tech startup of some sort,” she said. “I really enjoy how technology is constantly evolving and always coming up with new challenges for us to solve. It motivates me to keep thinking and learning about different things.”

 She said her academic and extracurricular activities at WHS have helped to guide her on this path.

 “I think our school has done a great job of motivating girls to participate in STEM activities,” Li said. “The AP science and math teachers are some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and I really feel like I grew so much as a student from those classes.”

 Li also said that over the course of her high school career, she has observed a shift in population from the traditional gender stereotypes.

 “There is a pretty even split between boys and girls in the STEM classes that I’ve been in, so that’s always a good sign,” she said.

 This observation is backed up by fact. According to Science Department Head Erica Cole, 50% of AP Biology students, 46% of AP Chemistry students and 43% of AP Physics students this year were female.   

 When looking at the national level though, gender disparity in the STEM fields is inarguable.

 According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce. This established norm is something that many women have to work against as they pursue careers in STEM.

 Young women who are passionate about these subjects, though, can find like-minded students through supportive organizations.

 For example, Li and senior Helen Zhang placed ninth in the Massachusetts Women of Science Competition at Bedford HIgh School in December.

 Li and Zhang competed against thirty-eight other groups of high school junior and senior girls in four different rounds of competition. Each round consisted of alternating trivia questions and building activities.

 “For the trivia rounds, we had to answer as many questions correctly as possible in areas pertaining to biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, math, and physics,” Zhang said. “For the building rounds, we had to  build the best structure apparatus that we could in order to satisfy certain requirements that they had  for us.”

 One of the biggest takeaways from participating in this competition was having the experience of doing hands-on learning and innovating, Zhang said.

 “I learned more about how to build things, since before, I was more into the whole science and knowledge thing, and didn’t really have much experience with applying that knowledge to making things,” she said.

 Zhang also said that teamwork was key as she and Li “had to work together … which was actually quite fun for us.”

 Despite her positive experiences at WHS, senior Anisha Agarwal said she is ready for a hard road as she plans to major in either mechanical engineering or computer science in college.

 “Overall, I think our grade has a lot of girls who are really strong in science and math. There has always been a pretty even gender divide in the stem classes that I’ve taken, but I know that that won’t be the case as I go further,” she said.

 Agarwal said instances of microaggressions, such as how “most girls in STEM have at least a few experiences where they were not listened to or taken seriously, but their male peers were, even when they were saying the same things” are rare in Weston.

 “As a girl in STEM, I don’t think I’ve had to face a lot of sexism,” she said. “I think, generally, the people who I’ve worked with on STEM-related projects know me and already know what I can and cannot do.”

 As Agarwal and her female peers step out into a more competitive world, she said they will have to be ready to “prove themselves.”

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Graduating senior women are poised to take on tough STEM fields