SKOWHEGAN — When Kim McEwen attended her first engineering course at the University of Maine, she was the only female student in the class.

Decades later, she now teaches STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and math — at the Skowhegan Area High School and the Somerset Career & Technical Center, and has been recognized for her work in closing the gender gap in Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles, while continuing to make STEM education accessible to more students.

McEwen’s computer science class was recently recognized by the College Board with the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, which is given out to schools that achieve high rates of female representation in AP Computer Science Principles.

Skowhegan Area High School and SCTC have expanded access to girls in these courses, and McEwen has also been making strides toward expanding lessons to fifth-graders in Maine School Administrative District 54.

Of the 20,000 institutions that offer AP courses, 1,119 achieved female representation of 50% or more in one of the two AP computer science courses during the 2019-20 school year.

“Skowhegan Area High School/Somerset Career & Technical Center’s students need the power to shape technology, not just cope with it,” Stefanie Sanford, College Board chief of global policy and external relations, said in a statement released to the news media. “Young women deserve an equal opportunity to become the next generation of entrepreneurs, engineers and tech leaders. Closing the gap in computer science education empowers young women to build the future they want.”

In 2020, Skowhegan Area High School/SCTC was one of 831 schools recognized with this award.

In Maine, 29.2% of those working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are women, according to a 2015 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, compared to 28.8% nationwide.

Richard Snowman, 16, gives the state championship bot from 2016 a tune-up, complete with new gears and motors, during class Wednesday at the Skowhegan Technical Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“During an unprecedented year, Skowhegan Area High School/Somerset Career & Technical Center female students have demonstrated perseverance and dedication in their study of AP Computer Science,” said Bruce Mochamer, principal of Skowhegan Area High School.

“We could not be more proud of our female students for staking their claim as the next generation of STEM and computer science professionals.”

At Skowhegan Area High School/Somerset Career & Technical Center, students have the option to take 3D design, robotics, computer science and structures with McEwen. She said the courses change or are added based on students’ requests and needs.

“We have kids come to robotics every year because they can code, but they wanted a full-on coding class,” McEwen said. “They wanted to see if that was something they’d want to do in the future.

“(Coding) certainly wasn’t my background, but I spoke to David Dorr (director of SCTC) and Principal Mochamer to have guidance and to make sure we could add it to our programming. Then I received training so I could guide the kids. It gives them an opportunity to try it here for free and get a feel for whether they want to do it or not.”

Prior to teaching in Skowhegan, McEwen worked with public water utilities in Connecticut and Maine. Before switching to teaching, she worked for the Bath Water District.

McEwen has a civil engineering degree from UMaine. She spent a decade working as an engineer and has been teaching for 18 years.

“(Teaching) was a personal choice for me,” McEwen said of her career change. “I did a lot of traveling and spent a lot of time away from my family, and my husband and I wanted to move back to this area. I said one day: ‘I like math and science. Let’s teach math and science.'”

She added that in the current academic year, she does not have any female students in her computer science class, which was recognized for the award, but this is not common.

Skowhegan Area High School junior Riley Fitzpatrick,17, sets up a 3D printer Wednesday to fabricate a plastic wheel for a model car during class at the Skowhegan Technical Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“In all of our classes, we typically have quite a few females,” McEwen said. “The one that has always been traditionally low (in enrollment) is robotics.”

McEwen has also been working on outreach and is starting a program with fifth-grade students across the district. An effort to bring STEM lessons to Margaret Chase Smith School and Canaan Elementary School began last spring, but was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cancelation of in-person learning.

“As we updated our own robotics equipment so that our kids could compete in competitions, we had some really nice working equipment,” McEwen said., “so we thought that we should reach out to fifth-grade teachers and wanted to do a traveling STEM program.”

By offering these programs to younger students, McEwen said she hopes to attract more into STEM courses by the time they reach high school.

Due to the hybrid learning schedule and spacing requirements required by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons are not offered this year, but McEwen said they will resume at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

Meantime, McEwen and her colleagues are in the process of putting together a summer robotics class for middle school students that will run during the normal summer school session in MSAD 54.

“There’s a lot of schools across the country that are now making computer science a part of their graduation requirements,” McEwen said. “We need tremendous amounts of numbers of people that want to train in coding, and we need bodies to fill these roles.

“There’s so many things you can get out of it, like problem solving and analytical skills. Those qualities are good, no matter where you go. It doesn’t matter if you want to be an engineer, teacher or businessperson.”

 

 


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