By Grace Berry
Women make up 24% of workers in science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) fields. This lack of females at high school levels has been most prevalent in AP Physics, at Prospect and in high schools across America.
The gender gap in AP Physics is nine girls compared to 21 boys or 30% female. According to the American Institute of Physics, on average 36.5 percent of students are female in high school AP Physics classes.
Keith Bellof, the Department Head of Math and Science as well as an Honors Physics teacher, said that while he wants more girls to join the class, physics is “pretty hard” and students have to prioritize their classes.
Bellof said the gap is mostly because of interest in physics, but there are still some stereotypes that exist.
“Girls tend to see it as a boy science, but we do our best to try to skew this perceptive,” Bellof said.
The gender gap also has to do with the lack of female role models. This has been evident for a long time when Marie Curie was the only female in attendance at the Solvay Conference on Physics in 1927, where other attendees included Albert Einstein and Henri Poincaré.
Bellof does his best to encourage girls to join AP Physics, especially if they did well in Honors Physics.
“When there are girls who we know would do really well and they aren’t signed up for AP Physics, we will talk to them,” said Bellof. “We’ll talk about the careers that can be opened up to them.”
This is especially prevalent now due to the growing desire for females in colleges and the scholarships and programs that are offered for females in male-dominated fields like physics and engineering.
The main reason girls do not join certain AP science courses is obviously because of interest.
Mark Welter, the AP Physics teacher at Prospect said that usually more girls are interested in going into medical fields. He said AP Biology and Chemistry would help them most in college rather than AP Physics, which would lead to more engineering and technology career paths.
In AP Biology at Prospect, there are ⅔ female compared to ⅓ male. Alex Yoo, a senior in AP Biology, said the gender gap doesn’t affect the classroom.
“I’ve never thought about it [gender gaps] before,” said Yoo.
Elizabeth Konopacki is a senior in AP Calculus BC and AP Physics. She said that at Prospect while she is one of the few girls in AP Physics she feels no negativity towards her because she is female. She doesn’t think the gender gap affects the classroom except the fact that all the girls work together.
Konopacki is not worried about being a girl in these classes at Prospect, since she wants to pursue engineering and she looks at colleges differently than most students. Konopacki asks the colleges she visits what percent of their engineers are women and if they have support programs for women in engineering.
“Engineering is a male dominated field,” said Konopacki. “That’s not what’s deterring me from going there, [to a certain college] but I want to make sure the school I go to has the appropriate schooling for me.”
Many physics teachers at Prospect agree that as the physics courses became more advanced in college, there became fewer women present. Bellof said during his physics program in college there was only one woman in his upper level courses, granted there were only 10 in his class. Welter agreed saying as his advanced physics classes had very few women.
Prospect graduate and physics teacher, Michelle Tantillo said in her college courses at Illinois State University there was usually a 3:1 ratio male to female. She has a similar view to Konopacki saying the girls is her classes stuck together, but again there was never any negativity towards females.
She feels most passionate about girls in her classes who think they can’t do something because they are female.
“It’s sad to me when girls start a lab and they’re like ‘I can’t do this, I’m female’.” Tantillo said, “I’m like, well what am I?”
“The fact that there is a preconception that so many women have that they can’t do something because they’re female, but their counterparts can…I wish we could move beyond that,” said Tantillo.