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Cleveland high school, Case Western Reserve University work to close gender gap in STEM

Cleveland high school, Case Western Reserve University work to close gender gap in STEM.
Posted at 7:24 AM, Nov 08, 2021

CLEVELAND — National STEM Day is recognized on Monday, Nov. 8. It's a day dedicated to bringing awareness and celebrating careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Almost 14 years ago, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District launched a new, free public high school with a heavy focus on STEM. MC2 STEM High School, which is made up of nearly 300 young people, gives students a hands-on opportunity at learning. It is open to CMSD students, as well as others from Cleveland-area suburbs.

"It is aimed at developing real world projects, so we work alongside the staff at the Great Lakes Science Center and at GE lighting and the colleges to develop these really innovative all encompassing projects to give students real life stem experience," said Fe MacKinnon, the head of MC2 STEM High School. "We try to stay ahead of the curve, or at least interact with what's going on, when it comes to technology and STEM education. And I'd like to believe that our students are at the forefront of that."

Students enrolled in MC2 STEM attend three different campuses. Students in 9th grade attend classes based at the Great Lakes Science Center, students in 10th grade attend classes at Tri-C and 11th and 12th graders are based on campus at Cleveland State University.

Students in MC2 STEM not only earn high school credits, but they're also actively receiving college credits. MacKinnon said this gives students a head start into post-secondary enrollment.

"I think the fact that all of our students are going to college classes this early gives them an advantage of understanding, how do you read a syllabus, how do you incorporate college life into your life and how do you make things work when you're on a different schedule," she said. "So I do think it gives everyone a leg up."

Despite making up almost half of the U.S. workforce, women are still underrepresented in the STEM-based jobs. Research shows, women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce. And men greatly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.

MacKinnon said MC2 STEM High School is closing that gap year after year.

She said when the school first opened, enrollment was about 75% male and 25% female. Now, 14 years later, it's nearly a 50/50 split.

"Our young ladies come in knowing and believing that they can do anything it doesn’t really matter what their gender is," MacKinnon said. "So I’m happy to say that it’s a non issue. It’s not even something we think about we can do anything."

Kirsten Ellenbogen, the president and CEO of the Great Lakes Science Center, said parents and other adults need to be good role models to encourage young girls.

"It is so hard to get out of a habit of stereotyping STEM roles and STEM expectations. We excuse people or make jokes about ourselves all the time," she said. "Children have big ears they hear all of us, whether or not there are children and it's such a simple thing that we can all do is just check ourselves, the next time."

At the college level, Cleveland-based Case Western Reserve University is also doing its part to break the stereotype.

The university is home to the WISER (Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable) program. It is promoted to the inclusion and success of all women pursuing a STEM-based career.

Rhea Lamba, a senior studying biomedical engineering, is one of several members. She believes women in STEM career fields provide perspective.

"There's so many ideas and like information I think women have that could totally make things way more accessible, especially when we look at reproductive health and things like that," she said. "Just hearing women perspectives and voices will completely change the way we look at reproductive health and like the STEM field in terms of that as well."

Lamba is planning to graduate in May 2022. Post college she is aiming to create medical devices to be used all over the world.

Lamba said when beginning to study STEM courses, she struggled with confidence. Her advice to younger girls interested in STEM-based careers: Believe in yourself.

"Just believing in yourself and believing that you could do it honestly is just so important," said Lamba. "Once you get that confidence that you can do it. I think that it will definitely help you stay in the STEM field and go to anything you really want to do."

If you're interested in MC2 STEM High School, click here.