Growing Intellectually Courageous Young Women

Award Winner

Let me begin by offering my sincerest thanks to NCWIT, including the Ohio affiliate members, for the work they do and the outreach effort that caused our Guidance Department to bring your mission to my attention.  Since the April 2nd ceremony celebrating the winners of the Ohio Affiliate NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, I admit to some measure of guilt regarding my being awarded the Educator Award for Aspirations in Computing.  I have been struggling to figure out how to make a more significant contribution. Mulling it over nearly constantly left me sensitive to opportunity, and opportunity knocked loudly this week.  As usual, it was at the intersection of multiple plotlines.

Plotline #1, of course, is the events leading to the NCWIT Award being given to two of my students, senior Hayley Montgomery and junior Kate Miller.

Plotline #2:  Arleen Piper, who chairs our Technology and Business Department, shared this story with me: On the first day of school this year, a lone girl showed up for one of Arleen's Introduction to Programming sections. She took one look around the room, saw she was the only girl, fled to Guidance, and (tragically) dropped the course.  Before the first week of school was over, another girl changed her schedule to take the course, saw she was the only girl, and prepared to kick academic butt!  I define the difference as intellectual courage.

Plotline #3:  I saw my projected 2011-2012 course enrollments this week.  Overall, enrollment in AP Computer Science, Honors Cisco Networking and Robotics 1 will jump by over 60%.  However, that will include only 7 girls, exactly the same number as this year, and completely unacceptable.

Plotline #4:  Kate, as courageous as they come, is creating a wonderful series of summer pre-engineering workshops for 6th and 7th grade girls. She's recruiting 9th and 10th grade STEM girls here at the high school to help her.  The middle school principal and educational technologists are excited.  She is involving a couple of outside groups, notably The Ohio State University (the EE Department and Women in Engineering) and The Center for Science and Industry, to bring in hands-on and multimedia activities.  It is going to be awesome.  But ...

... this is a one-shot, logistically complex endeavor.  Great for a capstone senior seminar graduation project, but neither scalable nor sustainable.  We need a systematic, sustainable, scalable way to promote intellectual courage among young girls.  We began thinking of an alternative, not involving summer workshops, to satisfy the goal of routinely identifying, encouraging and supporting technical girls and their innovative spirit, beginning in the 6th grade.

The solution: with the help of several of my Math and Science colleagues, we are creating a STEM Girls Club. Clubs at our high school are a regular, recurring part of our school day.  This year there are over 50 Clubs serving the special interests of over 1200 students.  Every teacher is involved, just another way to connect with kids.

We envision a dual mission for the STEM Girls Club: (1) provide social and academic support to high school girls taking difficult Science, Technology and Math courses; and (2) develop an ongoing relationship with the middle school to foster intellectual courage among young girls to encourage them pursue difficult Science, Math and Technology courses when they reach the high school.

Upon hearing of our plans, senior Hayley Montgomery said “all the cool stuff is going to happen after I’m gone.”  She’s going to college locally, so rest assured she will be one of our Club’s first guest speakers!

Give us a couple of years, and a continuous wave of courageous young women should begin reaching the high school, moving us further toward our District Mission of ensuring "the development of high-achieving, ethical, self-directed and intellectually curious citizens of the world."

David Herman teaches AP Computer Science, Honors Cisco Networking, and Robotics at New Albany High School and Eastland-Fairfield Career & Tecdhnical Schools. He is a recipient of the NCWIT Educator Award for Aspirations in Computing, sponsored by Google.