Teachers Hope To Address Gender Disparity In Pre-Engineering Program

Teachers Hope To Address Gender Disparity In Pre-Engineering Program
Worcester Technical High School students are pictured in a pre-engineering class. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

NEWARK – A gender disparity among pre-engineering students at Worcester Technical High School has prompted educators to take a closer look at how to get more girls involved in the male-dominated field.

In the eight years Valerie Zienty has led Worcester Tech’s pre-engineering program, more than 80 percent of her students have been male. As issues tied to women’s empowerment continue to make national and international news, Zienty wants to do her part to eliminate any stigma that might prevent female students from exploring her field of study.

“Women should take those first steps,” she said. “Just because it’s historically a male-dominated field doesn’t mean they can’t go into it.”

Zienty, who herself was one of just two women in a college engineering program of 200, says that after several years of noting the pre-engineering program’s uneven enrollment figures she decided this year to begin efforts to address the issue. She says the first step in the process is bringing attention to the fact that the most girls she’s ever had in her 40-student program is seven. Nationwide, women account for just 16 percent of the engineering workforce, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“They’re just not taking that step,” Zienty said. “What is it? A scare? A stigma? I want girls to know they’re welcome here.”

Senior pre-engineering student Emily Malinowski believes some girls might feel intimidated pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. She said she knew she’d likely be one of the only female students in Zienty’s program but didn’t let that stop her from registering.

“If you have a passion for it you should go for it,” said Malinowski, who hopes to eventually work in aerospace engineering.  “Being in the minority doesn’t mean you can’t be as good. You have something to work toward to prove yourself.”

Sophomores Brooke Ranney and Lanie Gladding said they’ve already adjusted to being among the few female students in pre-engineering. Ranney said she decided early her dream job was in architectural engineering and has taken any classes that put her closer to that goal.

“I knew this would put me in a good spot for a degree,” she said.

Gladding said being among the minority hadn’t bothered her either.

“It always takes one person to start the flame, to start the evolution,” she said, adding that the school could do more to promote pre-engineering to girls. “Even if it’s not exactly what you want to do later on it still looks really pretty on a resume.”

She and Ranney agreed that having a female teacher had helped.

“It’s inspiring,” Gladding said. “It’s nice to see a female leader in the industry.”

Principal Tom Zimmer, who is in his first year as head of Worcester Tech, agreed that the school was fortunate to have three female teachers among its pre-engineering instructors. He said the school did need to do more to encourage girls to consider pre-engineering and pointed out that enthusiastic pupils like Gladding, Ranney and Malinowski could help in that effort by talking about the program with younger students.

“We’ve got to get the word out,” he said.

He said he would like to see more female students not only in pre-engineering, but in all of Worcester Tech’s trade programs.

“This school’s got a lot to offer,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.