Education News

Feb 4, 2013 2:52 PM by Robin O'Day - KPAX News

Missoula class aims to help students break gender barrier

MISSOULA - Math and science are fields that are in a large part dominated by men, but the computer science teacher at Sentinel High School thinks things may change in the future.

"I don't ever recall being afraid of math, so it's just logic really. It's very simple,' Sentinel High School freshman Julia Vonessen said.

She transferred to Sentinel for one reason - it has the only Computer Science class taught in the Missoula County Public Schools system.

Like so many other computer science classrooms in the nation, Julia is the minority, a female in a male dominated field, something her teacher hopes will change.

"We need females in there to get a well-rounded picture of our society and to represent society. In doing that work, and to get a broader picture of the people in the field, explained Dave Hamilton, who teaches the class.

The Chair of the Computer Science Department and the University of Montana and the Chair of Business Technology at the Missoula College are both women and Hamilton says the opportunity is out there for young girls to aim high in science and math.

"This is what high school is for and education is for to take you and give you opportunities that your family encourages, but if your family is not there, you can be anything you want, that's the American dream," Hamilton explained.

Computer Science is a potentially rich career field to explore, and Hamilton says two local businessmen decided to put up some cash as a reward for some good work.

"They donated $1,000 last August, $650 bucks was given out to kids that brought in proposals saying this is a problem I want to attack with a computer solution."

Two of Hamilton's former students are making great money right out of college, in a field Julia finds exciting and may pursue herself.

"It's fun to think sometimes about doing something that could change the world and make it better."

The Computer Science class was almost cut because of funding at one point, and Hamilton taught the class for free for two years, just to keep it around.

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