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CAG Blog: Powered by Optimism

"Powered by Optimism" captures my reflections of life in and around an all-girls' school and highlights the values of C.A.G.: leadership, global citizenship, wellness, and teaching and learning. Underscoring it all is a deeply ingrained sense of optimism that we are preparing a generation of boldly creative women who will help change the world.

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stem- 8.27.12

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08/27/12 12:00 AM   | reply

This past spring, the CAG sent out a request to Agnes Irwin young alumnae, from the Classes of 2007 through 2011, to participate in an anonymous online survey. Our goal was to twofold: to explore how well our graduates feel we prepared them for the next step in their lives (college) and, in particular, how those young women who pursued a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education fared?

Some of what we discovered raised our eyebrows. 

Our graduates, without fail, rated themselves as “extremely well” or “very well” prepared in the subjects of English, verbal communication and written expression. But one of the most intriguing findings, for us, was that in the STEM fields, the longer our girls were enrolled at AIS, the more confident they felt in their abilities to pursue these fields.

This finding raises an interesting question about an all girls’ education. Is it possible that in an all girls’ environment the threat of stereotype is reduced enough to inoculate our students?

Let’s look at some national data. The American Association for University Women in their excellent 2010 report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” indicates that only around 15% of women pursue STEM majors. In contrast, 29% of our 2011 graduates are pursuing STEM majors.

This is in line with results at other girls’ schools, even internationally. Girls at St. Mary’s Calne, a prestigious girls’ school in the United Kingdom, for example, boasted a similar percentage of girls taking the A-levels in these traditionally male-dominated areas. A-levels, of course, are the UK’s post-secondary education assessments that help determine a student’s suitability for a university education.

But let’s get back to our alumnae study. What was particularly striking was the consistent way in which our graduates responded to the question: “What are the three words that best describe Agnes Irwin for you?” Graduates from all five years were most likely to describe their alma mater as “challenging, supportive and fun.” Interesting finding, as “challenging and fun” were also the top responses in our Challenge Success (through Stanford University) survey, conducted with students in grades 7 through 12 in the winter of 2011.

That’s a lot to feel good about as we set out on a new academic year. Thanks to all of our alumnae who responded to the survey and gave us much to think about. A full report of our findings will be available this fall.

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