By Rachel Gergetz, Current Staff
When Mattie Zautner enrolled in engineering, she decided to prove she belonged.
The significant ratio of girls to boys in technology fields is an issue that is present all over the country, and this evidently does not exclude the West Bend High Schools. There is a significantly smaller number of females than males enrolled in WBHS technology classes, with the exceptions of digital media and graphic communications. One notably divided class is engineering.
Zautner, an East senior, is enrolled in Engineering Design and Development, which consists of 3 girls and 12 boys. While she does not feel unwelcome in her class, she does feel her motivation is affected.
“It makes me want to try harder to prove I’m good enough to be in the class,” Zautner said.
Zautner also believes that girls should not be afraid of pursuing the engineering field if that is something they really want to do.
“More girls should be in engineering, but there are some girls who just aren’t interested,” Zautner said. “But if they want to go into it, they should definitely go for it.”
Technology teachers Ryan Johnson, Michael Bentdahl and Rob Willmas have also noticed the significant gender division. Johnson, who teaches engineering, has witnessed the division first hand and has ideas on why there is one in the first place.
“It’s mostly stigma, people see certain things that are male-dominated,” Johnson said. “It’s a nationwide thing. Engineering is also typically seen as a muscle-bound profession.”
Willmas, teacher of construction, architecture, and engineering, believes that both genders have important parts of technical jobs and each have their own natural strengths and weaknesses. He acknowledges that females often possess different mental qualities than males, some of which are necessary in workplaces.
“Females are often much more attentive to detail, and much more attentive to the process,” Willmas said.
Johnson agreed that males and females use different important strengths to their advantage, and that a healthy combination of both genders working together is crucial to success.
“The more diverse a group is, the better the chance of it being successful,” Johnson said.
The technology teachers shared ideas they believed could increase the number of females enrolled in technical classes at WBHS as well as across the nation. Bentdahl, a digital media teacher, said that breaking the stigma of a male-dominated profession could help bring in female students if it is broken at a younger age. Johnson suggested that celebrating positive female role models in the field might inspire young females.
East sophomore Abby Gawrych took Principles of Engineering this year and thinks more female students should enroll in such classes.
“I would certainly encourage other women to partake in a class like this,” Gawrych said. “Not only does it build skills that are required in the workforce, educate more people about an unfilled job market, and provide real life skills, but fills a gap between men and women that has been evident for a while.”
“It makes me want to prove I’m good enough to be in the class.”
– Mattie Zautner
Gawrych believes that confronting certain stigmas around technology education in the early stages of a girl’s life can help.
“I think that there is a gender gap in this area because nobody promotes the fact that these classes are available to the young girls,” Gawrych said. “I personally have never been talked to by someone about the benefits of the STEM careers, other than by my parents. I also think that there is a stigma surrounding this area. Every girl is always taught from a young age that they can be a fashion designer or a professional athlete, but never an engineer or an architect.”
East school counselor Kara Phillips speculated that in American culture subtle messages are given to males and females, and that as a result, whatever messages individuals are exposed to determine those individuals’ comfort levels. However, Phillips noted the different activities that WBHS does in an effort to combat the gender gap.
“We do have more females opening up to taking these courses, when we do different presentations to encourage females to take different classes,” Phillips said. “More and more females are interested and confident in taking some of those courses.”
Phillips says that students are invited to the WBHS College & Career Center, called the Hub, to hear about different offerings. She has faith in female participation in technology education.
“I have seen strong women get involved in tech ed courses and found great success,” Phillips said.
Additional reporting by Rachel Hilt, Contributing Writer
(Top image: Megan Lemke, East junior, is one of the few female students in Ryan Johnson’s Principles of Engineering class. Photos by Jessica Steger, Editor in Chief.)