While the award recognizes diversity in AP Computer Science A, it’s also indicative of Holderness’s greater success in achieving gender balance across its science and math departments.
“If you look at our faculty, we have a lot of women teaching high-level maths and sciences, which is pretty cool,” says Math Department Chair Elizabeth Wolf. “When I was in college, I had mostly male professors. I think one of the big things is just seeing females doing what you want to do.”
Indeed, Holderness’s success in achieving equal gender representation extend far beyond AP Computer Science A. Just last fall, 64 percent of students in the school’s most advanced math class, Linear Algebra, were female. This semester, Ms. Wolf is teaching a BC Calculus course in which 62 percent of the students are female. And for the last several years, the school’s STEMinists club has provided female students with another avenue to explore opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
In these ways and others, Holderness is far ahead of the nation as a whole in closing the gender gap in math and science - including the field of computer science. According to the College Board, female students remain underrepresented in computer science classes, with females comprising just 34 percent of AP Computer Science Principles participants. There is a similar lack of female representation in the workforce. A code.org analysis of 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data finds just 24 percent of the 5 million workers in computing occupations are female.
So why has Holderness been so successful in achieving gender parity in computer science and other STEM courses? Part of the reason may be the school’s wide range of academic opportunities, which aren’t often found at such a small school. “We’ve got robotics, we’ve got nutrition, we’ve got econ, we’ve got these advanced math offerings that I teach,” Elizabeth says. “There’s just so much, it allows kids to really explore and excel in a way that I think is more common at a big school.” These opportunities for Holderness students will only increase in the future. When the school opens the Davis Center, its new math and science building, it will give students and faculty an additional 35,000 square feet of state-of-the-art lab and classroom space. The possibilities seem limitless.
Ultimately, however, the success of Holderness’s math and science classes depend on faculty who are fully committed to supporting their students and fellow teachers, regardless of gender. “I have a ton of very supportive male colleagues, too,” Elizabeth says. “We have such a cool department. Everybody is so thoughtful, so interested in what they’re teaching, why they’re teaching, who the kids are, and it’s just really fun to work with them.”