AP physics camps aim to increase girls' interest in STEM studies
The Women of TI Fund develops programs such as AP physics camps for girls in the Dallas and Plano Independent School Districts. This summer, more than 40 girls attended the camps.
Nevena Rakonjac, a Dallas ISD student, said she thought engineering professions were only for men.
"I thought that I should go into 'helper' fields, such as teaching or nursing," Rakonjac said. "I had always liked math and science; however, I had no intentions of taking high-level courses in those subjects."
But after attending an Advanced Placement (AP) physics camp, she said, "I finally realized I am a left-brained female with a passion for learning mathematical tricks and formulas and pursuing scientific endeavors. I can and will have a career in engineering or science and will do a wonderful job."
Survey results from this year's summer camp show that 44 percent of participants who were not previously considering careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are now contemplating the idea.
Closing the gender gap
Through AP physics camps for high school girls, gender equity training for educators and career workshops for school counselors, the Women of TI Fund (WTIF) is making significant headway toward its goal of closing the gender gap in STEM professions. The fundís mission is to increase the number of girls graduating from high school who are entering a university-level technical degree program.
In 2001, several senior TI female executives pooled their resources and formed a donor-advised fund at the Dallas Women's Foundation to address the shortage of women in engineering and other STEM career fields. The fund has sponsored the AP physics camps in the Dallas ISD for the past six years and recently expanded the program to the Plano ISD.
The two-week AP Physics camp, also supported by the TI Foundation, is a hands-on mix of field trips, laboratory experiences, a review of key math skills and inspirational talks from female professionals.
Since WTIF's inception in 2001, 254 girls have participated in summer camps, 26 counselors have participated in the career workshops, and 25 teachers have participated in gender equity training.
Statistics show the impact these types of camps and training are having.
- In 2000, 57 girls from the Dallas ISD took an AP physics exam. Only 12 percent of them passed Ė 30 percent below the boys' pass rate.
- In 2007, 132 girls took an AP physics exam, and 43 percent of them passed.
In addition, girls who attended AP physics camps and who had teachers using gender equity practices passed AP physics exams at a rate of 60 percent Ė the same rate as the boys. Consequently, boys whose teachers used gender equity practices also showed an increase in the passage rate.
"Our programs are making a real difference toward closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math professions in the Dallas area," said Melendy Lovett, a fund founder and TI senior vice president and manager of Education Technology.
"We know we are making progress when we see an increase in girls' enrollment in AP science and math classes and improved performance on related AP exams. However, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity in the state, the nation and the workforce," she said.
Rebecca McGowan Jensen, a teacher at the camp, said, "What I like about the camp is that the girls get to experience learning without getting graded. They see the teachers as being on their side, not as authority figures.
"This freedom from grading led to a different relationship between the students and teachers. They got to see that teachers are people too and that we want them to have the opportunity to go to college and have exciting careers."
Jensen continued, "We are interested in meeting smart, motivated girls who donít know this is a great career. Half of these girls donít have a parent who went to college, so who are they talking with at home about it?"
Recently, TI nominated Jensen for a Tech Titan award, which she subsequently received from the Metroplex Technology Business Council. Jensen teaches physics and statistics at the Dallas ISD School for the Talented and Gifted.