Xavier STEM

Katelen Tellez, Tessa Gaynor and Erica Stutz are helping to break the gender gap among STEM-related classes.

Xavier College Preparatory recently won the College Board AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award. The school was honored “for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles.”

According to Lisa Zuba, Xavier’s director of marketing and staff development, the school was one of only 36 to be recognized in 2019 for closing the gender gap in AP computer science courses.

The gender gap in STEM education refers to the inequity of educational opportunities between male and female students. “Only about 20% of professionals in the computer science field are women,” Zuba said.

Male professionals have long dominated high tech fields, but this inequity has been shrinking over time. Three female Xavier seniors are proving the point that girls can do anything boys can do.

“I came to Xavier knowing taking computer science was a requirement,” said Tessa Gaynor. “I’d heard it was a difficult class, so it wasn’t something I looked forward to doing. But once I got into the class, I found that I loved it. Being able to have this opportunity is important.”

“Computer science was not something I would have focused on,” Katelen Tellez said. “Had it been optional, I probably wouldn’t have taken it as it seemed so intimidating. This year, I’m taking AP Computer Science Principles, and I plan to major in computer science in college.”

“I, too, probably wouldn’t have taken computer science if it weren’t mandatory,” Erica Stutz said. “In a world that’s so ingrained with technology, computer science is such an important subject. If you know how to code, you’re hired over those who don’t. I’m looking to study bioengineering in college; computer science is part of that.”

Xavier’s female-only enrollment is not the only aspect that sets this high school apart in terms of STEM education.

“Computer science is a requirement here at Xavier,” Zuba said. “English is required Xavier, and computer science is right up there with it.” According to Zuba, every Xavier student has to learn code.

“Computer science is like another language,” Stutz said, “and when you’re introduced to it at a younger age, you’re more likely to pick up on it.”

Zuba credits high school computer science coursework with not only thoroughly preparing students for advanced university studies but also that students will enter college with more academic confidence in the sciences.

“In college, our students will be in classes with 80% guys,” Zuba said, “and then they’ll graduate and work at companies with maybe only 30% women. The confidence they develop here at Xavier will take them a long way.”

Frequently, the AP coursework taken at Xavier can be applied toward university degree requirements, which saves students both time and money.

“Just because a subject like computer science looks male-dominated doesn’t mean it’s intimidating,” Gaynor said. “You can get into it; it’s just as easy for us girls as it is for boys.”

“And everything includes computer science now,” Stutz said. “No matter what field you’re going into, you’ll probably use it in some way.”