SWEETS provides home for girls interested in STEM

SWEETS empower female students to combat stereotypes of a male-dominated field

Eleanor Kaplan, Co-Editor in Chief

As hundreds of students pour out the doors at the end of the school day, juniors Maddie Joseph and Mia Lecinski, along with a few dozen other bright, like-minded young women, make their way to the science laboratory.

Every Monday, the group gathers in the classroom for SWEETS club, also known as the Society of Women in Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Science.

Led by chemistry teacher William Loris, they partake in hands-on activities, learn about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) -based careers, and listen to lectures from influential women in science fields.

Joseph and Lecinski, who participate in swimming and cross country respectively as well as many other activities, do not fit the “science kid” stereotype. They hope to show that science and extended learning is for everybody.

According to the National Institute of Math and Science, New Trier is one of just a few schools that have a science club geared specifically towards women.

Lecinski said, “[The club is] about teaching us more about engineering and there’s the added element of not enough girls doing science or even knowing about it.”

The club often has guest speakers come in. Most recently, Go Green Wilmette founder, Beth Drucker, talked to the club about entrepreneurship.

In 2014, Drucker earned the Distinguished Citizen Award from District 39 for her environmental activism and has since been an important member of the community.

The group also discusses different scientific news and articles, tutors children about science topics in Evanston, and experiments in the lab.

“Last week, we played with liquid nitrogen,” Lecinski said. The group also takes part in yearly “disassembly parties” said Loris, in which the club brings in electronic devices to take apart and understand the mechanics inside them.

SWEETS club is led by an experienced group of long-time members, including Joseph, who joined the club in her sophomore year.

“I feel like one of the bigger issues facing our generation is that most STEM fields are very underpopulated by women, and we’re the future. So, the more women we can get involved in STEM, the better,” Joseph said.

According to a survey done in 2011 by the Department of Commerce, women make up just 25 percent of workers in STEM fields. There are more women in fields related to life sciences than in the so-called “hard” sciences.

In sociology, psychology, and health-related occupations, women make up more than 50 percent of the work force. The survey also states that fields that are more related to technology and physical sciences, like physics, mathematics, chemistry, and computer science, are male-dominated, with just 13 percent of women working in them.

Loris believes this inequality within STEM fields begins at a young age.

“High school boys can be very rambunctious and the high school girls can be a little intimidated, so I think it’s important that they have this inspiration,” he said.

In his classes, added Loris, he makes an effort to get girls involved often to show them that they can do science just as well as the boys.

Although the school makes an effort to encourage women to pursue STEM fields, some parents are still unsure about their daughters pursuing certain careers.

Mathematics department chair Mary Lappan said, “The place I see the difference is when I’m talking with parents who sometimes question their daughter’s interest in engineering.”

Once in high school, the separation of interests between males and females tends to increase.

While the majority of math and science courses have a relatively equal ratio of male to female students, in some high-level classes, such as AP Computer Science and AP Physics C, there can be up to 3 or 4 times as many male students as female students, according to Lappan.

This gap only grows in the transition from high school to college, where men are 30 percent more likely to obtain an engineering degree than women.

One of the main missions of SWEETS club is to inspire women to pursue their interests in STEM fields. Loris said of the club’s members, “They have partnered with Girl Scouts and brownie troops. They’re awesome role models for these younger girls.”