Science Department Chair Jennifer Drudge
Could you talk about your journey through STEM, and what brought you to where you are now?
I always enjoyed school and I really always enjoyed all subjects in school. It was my chemistry class in high school that was the first time I really realized how much I loved trying to figure things out. I love the problem solving involved with chemistry, but it was a little bit different from math for me in that not just was I problem solving sitting at my desk, but I was also able to get up, do things with my hands, and try to problem solve in labs.
Chemistry in high school was the first class that truly made me think about going into the sciences. As I progressed through high school and then took AP chemistry during my senior year of high school—that was the class that really sealed it for me, and the reason it sealed it for me was that it was hard. It was challenging. And I loved that. I didn’t get straight A’s in AP chemistry, but that was okay because there was always something more to learn and always something more to figure out.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. So when I went to college at Butler University, I told my parents I was going to be a chemistry teacher and they were like, “Well, why don’t you think about doing something other than teaching if you’re going to go into the sciences, because there’s so much to do with (STEM).” And they are right.
There are so many avenues in science, and there’s so many avenues for women in science. But for me, teaching was always at the core of what I wanted to do. As I went through my college chemistry classes—biochemistry, organic chemistry—I enjoyed all those things, but I kept coming back to, I wanted to instill that love of science into other people.
And I think it’s really, really cool as a teacher to get to see all the different fields that kids are going into in the STEM fields these days.
How have you integrated STEM into your identity?
I actually think that’s really challenging to do. What’s been helpful for me is that a lot of young teachers coming in have had truly more STEM experiences. Young teachers are coming in now—they’ve had coding, and they’ve learned how to do a lot of things that we never had going through college. It’s fun for me to learn from younger teachers and (see) how I can do things differently. I tend to be a bit of a traditionalist and I want to teach the same way I learned, but what we’re now learning is, kids can do so much more with the information you give them. You don’t have to make them memorize information anymore. You just have to provide the information and let them run with it. And they’re really, really able to show some great things.
What are your thoughts on the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields?
It wasn’t until I was older that I actually realized how underrepresented women were. I happened to grow up in a family where women could do everything men could do, and I didn’t even really know how underrepresented women were. It’s another thing I love about Carmel high school and Carmel community; there’s a lot of successful women in sciences. But we still see a huge drop off in physics and engineering. There’s still very heavily dominated by men. Even if you look at high school classes, it’s still heavily dominated by high school boys more so than high school girls, even though in biology and chemistry, we see just as many girls in our AP classes. A challenge for us is, what can we do to help more girls realize the successes they can have in physics and engineering, especially?
You know, it is getting better, but you’re absolutely correct that it is underrepresented. Last year, two former students—one who is going to be going to med school and the other one who is a nurse now—started a scholarship through the Carmel Education Foundation specifically for women going into the STEM fields. They said that they both saw in their college classes that women are still underrepresented. They wanted to make sure that women are getting as many opportunities as possible in those fields because women can do every single thing men could do in those fields.
Do you have any advice for girls who want to pursue STEM?
My biggest piece of advice is to keep exploring all of the possible routes and all the possible avenues there are in STEM. I think a lot of times we get pretty narrow(ly) focused and we think, “Oh, I like science. I’m going to be a doctor.” Or we tend to go, “I’m going to be a doctor, engineer, pharmacist.” Well, there are a zillion other options in the STEM fields, and every single day there are more and more possibilities because of how quickly things are changing.
My biggest advice to anyone going into STEM, especially girls, is to get out there and look at all the cool things there are to do, and you may find a real passion in something you didn’t know you had a passion in.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would just add for kids to try to get involved in different things at Carmel High School. I actually heard a basketball player a couple of years ago say that if he could go back and do it again, he really wished he would’ve gotten involved in TechHOUNDS because he was very interested in it. But because he was a basketball player, he didn’t think he could fit into that mold and fit into TechHOUNDS mold.
I just want kids to realize there are no molds. If you have an interest in something, if you have an interest in linguistics, go do linguistics. You have an interest in crosswords, go do it. Whatever you have an interest in, just go explore those things.0