The role of single-gender schools in promoting STEM graduates
This op-ed from the President of Bryn-Mawr is about all kinds of STEM, but the discussed example is a computer science student. I got the chance to visit Bryn-Mawr recently and really enjoyed it. The students are sincerely excited about what they’re studying, far more than most students I see at Georgia Tech. What’s the role of being a single-gender school in that? I also visited at Haverford the same week, and found similar excitement. Is it the liberal arts school culture, the small school culture, or the single-gender school?
When I asked Barb about this, she reminded me of the findings from our Georgia Computes workshops. The mixes of gender matters. For example, if a female is leading a mixed gender workshop, the boys change their attitudes about whether girls can do programming — but not if a male leads the workshop. She says that she finds that the girls enjoy the robot workshops more when the boys aren’t there, because if the boys are there, they hog the robots and the girls don’t get a chance. Girl Scouts and Girls Inc are better settings for robot workshops for girls than are mixed-gender summer camps.
At Bryn Mawr we want to engage all types of students in STEM coursework and believe they all can succeed. Offering students a variety of entry points into the sciences allows those who arrive at college with advanced preparation to enroll in higher-level courses that immediately challenge them, while students who have had negative prior experiences in STEM coursework or poor preparation can take and enjoy courses at various points in the introductory level.
An institution can also use innovative pedagogy that teaches the applications of science to attract more students to STEM subjects. For example, in introductory courses in computer science at Bryn Mawr, students apply CS principles to create graphic design projects. Across the sciences, our lab exercises focus on problem-solving rather than the execution and replication of a series of instructions.