How to empower girls as the next generation of inspirational leaders

An engineering student shares how The Bishop Strachan School prepared her to pursue her passion with confidence.

The gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields is hardly news at this point. Only 13 percent of licensed engineers in Canada are women, according to Engineers Canada. Encouraging girls to believe STEM is for them is critical to fixing this lack of parity. For The Bishop Strachan School (BSS) alumna Jocelyn Wall, her time at BSS put her on the path to pursuing engineering and gave her the confidence to develop both her academic skills and her leadership skills in tandem.

“As a woman entering a male-dominated field, I never felt anything but supported at BSS and empowered by my peers, teachers and community to follow my dreams,” Wall says. “At BSS, I was able to dive into my enthusiasm for engineering by joining the VEX Robotics Team and attending the Harvard Science Olympiad Competition with the school. Both inside and outside of the classroom, BSS’s strong learning community created an environment where I could develop my confidence and then graduate knowing that I have everything it takes to achieve my goals.”

Having the determination to go after your chosen career is as important as having the technical knowledge. BSS’s approach to education is designed not only to inspire students’ academic achievements but also to encourage them to develop confidence, goals and leadership skills, says Kristen Clarke, the dean of teaching and learning at the school.

“Inquiry is at the heart of what we do at BSS,” Clarke says. “We have high expectations for our students to ask great questions, explore ideas, develop new ways of thinking and share their findings. This inquiry approach is wrapped up with an equity mindset.”

Prepping for university success

BSS’s advanced placement (AP) courses exposed Wall to university-level content and gave her opportunities to challenge herself and explore subjects she was passionate about. AP courses help students get an idea of ​​what university will be like academically so they feel ready when they get there.

“My decision to take AP courses allowed me to further develop my language and communication skills through AP English as well as problem-solving and mathematical reasoning skills through AP physics,” Wall says. “As I now begin my Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto, I feel well prepared as I am more familiar with university-level content and have built invaluable skills that I will use throughout my degree.”

A new kind of leader

For Wall, growing her leadership skills outside of academics played a big part in her confidence. BSS gives girls of all ages opportunities to step into leadership roles, including on sports teams, at clubs and in the classroom. What’s more, senior students can run events and activities, and hold formal leadership roles in student government. There’s even a specialized leadership program that helps young women see themselves as leaders.

“We aim to develop our students’ leadership in a way that its purpose resonates with them and is impactful for others,” says Charlotte Fleming, BSS’s director of leadership and service. “Our programs center student voice and passion and encourage collaboration and the ‘act of doing.’ Skill development through direct lessons, training sessions and retreats provides our students with the tools to have confidence in their ability to be authentic, transformative leaders. And, these intentional efforts reinforce the notion that a title doesn’t make a leader; leadership can be learned. It doesn’t have to be loud, and it is about empowering and lifting those around you.”

This vision of leadership feels particularly relevant for 2022 and the future as we move towards a more inclusive society where girls and women have greater access to participation and leadership in many arenas. “There has been a renewed emphasis on service leadership and collaboration,” Fleming says. “The focus has really shifted to student belonging, identity and community.”

Perhaps Wall puts it best: “One of my main takeaways from learning at BSS is that girls truly can do anything,” she says.

To get more information on The Bishop Strachan School programs and offerings, click here.

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