Women in science at SHCHS

Southern Huntingdon County High School and Middle School’s science department is comprised entirely of female instructors. Abigail Horne, right,, chemistry and physics teacher, supervised a classroom lab being conducted by Kolton Gaff, left, and Ryder Hileman.

When you think of educators in STEM (Science, Technology, Electronics and Mathematics) fields, what comes to mind first? Is it a man in a lab coat? A guy decked out in lab safety attire? Contrary to what you might think, in the Southern Huntingdon County School District, all the science teachers in the high school and middle school are women.

According to catalyst.org, women only represented 24 percent of STEM careers in 2015. While teaching science is not explicitly depicted in those statistics, a science teacher has a STEM career. The SHC science department has not always included women solely — the Class of 2019 had Andrew Hull in sixth grade and Gary Greenland in eighth grade. When Greenland retired, Daniel Zimmerman was hired into the position.

“Thinking back to when I was in high school in the 1970s, I never had a female science teacher. I am not sure I even had one in college,” Lynn Rennell, the sixth-grade earth and space teacher, began. “I never really thought I would be a science teacher because I am actually certified in elementary education, but I love my middle school classes. I think that having female science teachers in a male-dominated field sends a message that girls are every bit as competent as boys, and there are no limits to our dreams.” Rennell is not the only science teacher at SHC who has had the experience of having only male science teachers. “All of my high school science teachers were male, and in college, I had only one female science professor,” Kelly Thomas, seventh-grade life science teacher, stated. “Throughout all of my college courses and teaching experiences, I have always been in a group of predominantly women, so I have never really thought of SHC as breaking the status quo. I think this shift happened sometime in the late 1990s.”

Sarah McMath, SHC’s high school biology teacher, also noticed this change. “I began teaching chemistry in 1998, and I was one out of two women in a 15 member department. Where I grew up in Maryland, there was a noticeable shift where families went from one income to two. I think the increase of female science teachers came from women who loved science and needed that extra income.”

Abigail Horne, the high school chemistry and physics instructor, had a noticeably different classroom experience than Thomas regarding the male to female ratio. “Growing up, it was always instilled in me that everyone is created equal and that I could do anything I wanted if I believed in myself. I never thought about the fact that I was entering a male-dominated field until I realized that, in one of my college math classes, I was the only woman in the entire class.” “That did not change my mind about STEM,” Horne stated. “I do not feel like I was ever treated differently for being a woman in this field, and I like to think that I am a role model for my students regardless. In the department, we like to joke about our position, and we have dubbed ourselves the Science Queens.”

When it all comes down to it, gender is not a determining factor in anyone’s career path. These women, as well as Nicolee Christophel and Jennifer Zimmerman, are science instructors because they love the field, they are passionate about what they do in the classroom and they want to inspire and instill a love for the world around us into the future of tomorrow.

“Anyone can do anything with hard work and a positive attitude,” McMath concluded. “I hope I am instilling this in my own children and my students.”

Kylie can be reached at khawn@huntingdondailynews.com

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