No boys allowed: Urban introduces an all-girls engineering class


Women occupy only 24 percent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related jobs in the world.  The science teachers at Urban have noticed a significant gender imbalance in science and math classes and have spent time as a department thinking about how to support female STEM students. As a step towards addressing the underrepresentation of girls in Urban STEM classes, Urban recently implemented an engineering class for woman-identifying students. This class is taught by science teacher Bethany Hellerich, who uses teacher recommendations to recruit sophomores who have a keen interest in science.

Hellerich explained the rationale for the class. The girls in this year’s sophomore class have expressed a unique interest in working with their hands in a more project-based environment.

The goal of the recommendation process for the course is for the students’ advisors to talk to girls that have been recommended by their past science teachers, which will hopefully “spur them into taking more physical sciences in the future,” Hellerich said.

When teachers are recommending students for science classes in their junior and senior years, they identify which students would succeed in and benefit from UrbanX classes specifically.

Molly Bradley ‘21 is in the new engineering class. When asked about her opinion on the all-girls aspect of the class, she said, “I would have taken the class even if it was coed. However, I think it’s really great that they did make it all-girls. Just because I haven’t experienced any problems with boys so far, I know that it can be a big issue and it is important to acknowledge.”

When asked about what strategies Urban has for improving gender equity in the classrooms, Hellerich said, “We don’t just do the token one girl group thing that occasionally happens in other classes. It’s not the girl’s responsibility to be ‘the girl in the group.’ So putting them in a single group is often more effective.”

However, there are potential downsides to Urban’s new approach. While some students like being in all-female groups because they feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing their opinions, others don’t want to be restricted to working with members of the same gender.

Science teacher Skyler Silverman said that there were only a few women in one of his classes. Most of them assumed they would be put in an all-girls group. However, one student wanted to do a project that the other two were not interested in. He said that he was “not going to let that interfere with legitimate scientific interest.” Putting girls in a group together is supposed to help make girls feel more comfortable; however, Silverman and Hellerich agreed that gender should not be the only deciding factor.

With the addition of Urban’s first all-girls engineering class, Urban has taken its first step to acknowledge the gender imbalance in many Urban STEM classes. It is essential that the school continues to prevent gender inequality in the STEM classes and make Urban’s classrooms places where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions.