Closing the Gender Gap in Engineering

Why are only 10% of engineering students at JJHS women?

Ashley  Buatte is designing a way to grow basil without soil for a Principles of Engineering assignment. She’ll refine her concept in OnShape, a 3D modeling package used by mechanical engineers, and then build a working prototype from which she'll cultivate, harvest and hopefully use the hydroponically-grown produce in sauce or on pizza. She decided to grow basil because it's an ingredient her family uses often.

Ashley and her classmate Cameron Sandell are the only two women in the class of twenty-three students. “The class has been approximately 10% female for the last seven years,” said teacher Steven Zoeller. “I want to change that.” The hydroponics design unit is a positive step towards gender diversity in John Jay High School’s engineering concentration.

Technology is integral to the class

research offers insights

Through a class he is taking called Closing the Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Zoeller encountered research that indicates that while males are motived to learn technology for technology’s sake, females tend to be motivated by real-world problems. They learn and use technology to achieve their end goal. Zoeller created the hydroponics unit as well as one in which students design personal protective equipment in direct response to that information.

“In the past we built bridges to see how much weight they would hold,” said Zoeller. “I am revising our engineering curriculum to be more product-based. Students will design things that fill a real-world need.” Zoeller is optimistic that the new direction will make a difference. He plans to present the changes to guidance counselors this spring. 

engagement and learning across the class

The shift to projects that solve a real-world need, particularly those having to do with sustainability, benefits all students. The new units are generating engagement and learning across the class.

“I like to design things visually,” said Abel.

“I like connecting design with science,” said Cameron.

“We like to make things,” said Jackson and Will, who are working as a team.

“I like problem solving,” said Ashley. “It’s a lot of fun to research solutions.”

Steve Zoeller and the Engineering Class