North Creek Women in STEM Inspire the Next Generation

Rebekah Lindsay, News Editor

    Every Saturday before the pandemic, senior Tanushree Koshti tacked sheets of black butcher paper to the wall of a rented classroom, covering the windows whose light distorted the block programming examples projected on the adjacent wall. This weekly ritual prepared the space for the onslaught of elementary and middle school students coming to learn the basics of computer science. 

    Koshti felt drawn to the STEM field at a young age and is sure she will major in a STEM-related field in college. However, when Koshti was in middle school, she recalls feeling awkward and left out when she realized she was one of the only girls in her advanced STEM related courses. “It made me get this feeling like maybe I’m not fit for this,” said Koshti. 

    Yet, years later, Koshti has used this observation to motivate herself and other young girls interested in STEM. “I thought you know I’ve experienced this, and I can be a part of breaking trying to break the social norm,” said Koshti. In August of 2019, Koshti—along with two friends—founded a nonprofit organization called LetsSnap with the goal of encouraging kids, especially young girls, to explore the STEM field. 

    During weekly computer classes, students learn the basics of block programming using a program called snap. This January, LetsSnap is launching an additional course on web design which will cover the basic concepts of HTML and CSS. Koshti hopes that access to computer science courses through LetsSnap will not only teach the students key skills, but also inspire them to pursue a career in STEM. “I firmly believe that gender diversity in areas like science and technology needs to be addressed at an earlier age, hence building the interest in young girls beforehand, which will enable them to pursue their interests,” said Koshti.

Before the pandemic, senior Tanushree Koshti spent her Saturdays teaching young children coding principles. Koshti herself hopes that early exposure will inspire more youth to pursue subjects in the STEM field.

    While gender diversity in STEM fields has improved overall in recent years, degrees in engineering, computer science, physical science, and mathematics are still disproportionately awarded to more men than women. In a 2015 study, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported that women received 43 percent of mathematics degrees, 39 percent of physical science degrees, 20 percent of engineering degrees, and only 18 percent of computer science degrees.

    North Creek Biology and AP Environmental Science teacher Claire Farr notes the discrepancies in these fields. “If you look at stem and engineering and stem in computer science, you know the odds are still stacked in favor of men,” said Farr. However, Farr does not recall any disadvantage or gender discrimination while pursuing her degree in immunology. She fondly recalls being empowered by a woman from her first lab position who helped her move up from being a dishwasher to prepping experiments to handling the mice. 

    Similarly, North Creek Zoology and Chemistry Teacher Michaela Heeb-Kelly enjoys the research aspect of science in college. Originally a Graphic Arts then an Anthropology major, Heeb stumbled into the STEM field by chance. “I took an introductory Statistics class and was drawn to learning more about research and design. So, I doubled up my college major to a duo in Psych/Anthro. I realized that any graduate school was going to require a Science background, so I added a minor in Biology,” said Heeb.

    Heeb recalls an ongoing legal suit from the 1990s regarding the payment of women versus men for the same jobs at The University of California and recognizes that many facets of many STEM still have more opportunities for males. “Still lots of equity work left to do,” said Heeb. 

    Yet, she notes an important distinction between separated departments. “An interesting opposite is that in Developmental Biology there are nearly always more females than males,” said Heeb. Farr and Koshti both concur, recognizing that not all disciplines within STEM have the same experience. 

    In the same 2015 NSF report, over half of all bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences were awarded to women. Farr wonders if this difference may be in part to a fear of math—a vital part of engineering and mathematical degrees. “I don’t know if it’s true still, but there was a time when I certainly felt like girls had sort of this more negative attitude towards math,” said Farr. 

     However, Farr encourages anyone hesitant about pursuing  STEM for the same reasons to do so anyways. “I think the inspirational message though to everybody would be to not be intimidated by something that you’re interested in,” said Farr. Heeb agrees that students should aim to pursue their passions. “Sticking with a field of study that doesn’t excite you won’t serve you well in the long run.  Follow your dreams and avoid regret,” said Heeb.

    Looking forward to the future, there is still a ways to go before reaching equitable ends for STEM in terms of gender equality; however, with such models like North Creek’s science department and young role models like Koshti emphasize the potential for STEM. “There’s so much that you can do, it’s not only coding or only engineering or math. There’s science and you can combine the STEM ideas into anywhere.[…] like arts, or you can apply it to English or history,” said Koshti. 

    Farr shares similar sentiments, acknowledging the potential of STEM and diversity on a larger scale. “There’s so much that we can do in engineering and in computer science to help with social justice, access to health care, environmental issues[…] to get people of color, get girls and men, get people of different sexual orientations; all of that into that, we just broaden the ability of mankind to solve those problems,” said Farr.