SMA Leads the Way for Computer Science Nationally


SMA Leads the Way for Computer Science Nationally

Have you heard the news? St. Mary’s continues to lead the way for STEM. We recently earned the College Board AP® Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science A (CSA). Schools honored with the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award have expanded girls’ access in AP computer science courses. CSA students learn to design and implement computer programs that solve problems relevant to today’s society. Learn more about the award, women in Computer Science and why this award is indicative of our teaching philosophy at SMA.

Female students remain underrepresented in high school computer science classes, accounting for just 26% of AP Computer Science A participants. For Principal, Liane Rae, the role of STEM at SMA is imperative. Rae, who began her time at SMA as a Science teacher and was key to the creation of our Computer Science curriculum and has spent countless hours planning how to grow the SMA offerings in these under-represented fields. One key evolution from Principal Rae, the requirement of a Computer Science course for all freshman – allowing them to be engaged in the space earlier in their high school career, “Even if you are in humanities, the lessons learned in STEM classes can elevate the learnings in any field. We are proud that we can introduce Computer Science to all our freshman and the fact that we are seeing this play out as an increased interest in Computer Science classes later in their time at SMA.” 

AP CSA, an offering since 1988, has seen continual increased in the number of female students enrolling in the class and taking the corresponding test. The College Board found that “female participation has increased 69% since 2017, to 24,147 women”. St. Mary’s is one of only 225 schools internationally to receive the CSA Female Diversity award this year. We are also only one of three in the state of Oregon to win the award in 2023.  

At SMA, students are continually asked to set the pace inside and outside of the classroom. In a study performed by Google, they found that 54% of females who major in computer science in college took AP CSA. College Board, the purveyors of AP exams, found in their research that “Students who take AP CSP are more than three times as likely (11.7 percentage points) to declare a computer science major at the start of college compared to similar students who did not have AP CSP available to them.” This puts our students one step closer to higher level STEM curriculum and career pathways. Technology and Design Teacher, Kira Smith '14 shares, “My aim in the classroom is first and foremost to promote the development of a growth mindset in every student. In Computer Science, we can usually expect that not everything will work perfectly on the first try, but we learn to approach each setback not as a failure, but as a growth opportunity and a learning experience.” 

As we think about the future of SMA, these fundamentals are at the core of our growth planning. Vice Principal of Academics, Ellie Gilbert stated that “We didn't get this award by default because we're an all-girl school. We've been an all-girls school every year we've entered the AP exam award program. We received this award as a direct result of intentionally focusing on our STEM programs. This award is an affirmation of the good work we're doing and will continue to do.” 

KGW News featured St. Mary's Academy AP Computer Science program.

View full story here.

Through Computer Science offerings at SMA, our women are given the opportunity to explore a field and course offering that is traditionally male dominated. As we prioritize STEM and STEM education, this award helps solidify that we are on the right track. “Computer science is the source code of our economy and much of the career landscape,” said Trevor Packer, Head of the AP Program. “In the six years since we began the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, it’s been heartening to see schools like St. Mary’s Academy welcome so many more young women into this vital field.”  

As we look to the future of SMA – we are especially proud of the growth that has happened around STEM and related programming – inside and outside the classroom.