Crunching the Numbers

Sylvan Learning makes a pitch for parity with girls-only STEM classes

STEM

By Paul Bacon

When women make up nearly half the American workforce, why are they still underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.

Audra Bohn, director of education for Sylvan Learning Center of Bend, says more women might work in these jobs now if they hadn’t felt like outsiders in STEM classes when they were in school. That’s why Sylvan is trying out a new STEM program just for girls this winter.

Earlier this year, Sylvan Learning Center, Inc., a tutoring company with franchises across the U.S., created a program it calls Sylvan Edge. Bohn says Edge, which is open to girls and boys, was designed to meet an increasing demand for STEM-related tutoring services. She explains, “There’s a huge push in our country and around the world for STEM- focused jobs. To get one of those jobs, even at the entry level, you have to have a very broad and deep skill set. Most schools don’t teach those skills.”

Bohn, who holds degrees in education and psychology, says mainstream educational facilities don’t have time to focus on STEM essentials. “Schools are strapped as it is just getting across the basics. They have to cover math, reading, writing, science, foreign languages, and physical education. Adding even one more thing would water down their curricu- lum,” says Bohn.

Edge was created to pick up where schools leave off, providing subjects like robotics, computer coding and study skills. In the robotics course, which helps kids think critically and solve complex problems, students use computers to animate robots in a friendly competition with other students. Coding courses teach kids how to program and build their computational thinking skills.

Bohn says when Edge launched nationally in Spring 2015, it marketed the program to students of both sexes, but only 15 percent of the kids who enrolled were female. Bohn says,“The imbalance at the student level said a lot about why women hold so few STEM jobs. It couldn’t have been clearer that something needed to change.”

So Edge was modified to include a new program just for girls. Bohn says, “Studies show girls lack confidence in STEM subjects, so Sylvan is putting confidence into the equation.”

What, other than sexual segregation, is different about Edge for girls? “Absolutely nothing,” says Bohn.

And why, if women seek intellectual parity with men, should girls be separated from boys in a class that doesn’t involve physical contact or contests of strength between participants? Bohn explains, “What we’re trying to do is provide an inviting opportunity for the group that is currently outnumbered in STEM courses. If there was a subject in which boys were outnumbered, and it seemed like it might help, we might open a boys-only group in that subject to see if there was interest.”

Boys crowd the STEM field, but Bohn says girls may naturally outperform boys in general study skills. “We have a lot more boys than girls enrolled in our study skills program. We find boys need more help getting their work completed and turned in on time,” she says. “Girls seem to have a natural ability to manage their school work.”

Other than signing up for its girls-only Edge program, Bohn says her advice to girls who want to pursue a STEM career is, “Don’t let anything stop you. Don’t worry about being outnumbered now. That may change. You could be part of that change.” Bohn adds, “Girls have a lot to offer. They’re intelligent, creative, focused and hardworking. They’re thoughtful people.”

Bohn says enrollment in most of Sylvan’s programs is split roughly equally between the sexes.

Edge for Girls rolls out in December. Sylvan Learning has two offices in Bend: 2150 NE Studio Road (main office), and 2863 Northwest Crossing Drive.

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