How to empower girls as the next generation of inspirational leaders

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

The gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is hardly new at this point. According to Engineers Canada, only 13 percent of licensed engineers in Canada are women. Encouraging girls to believe that STEM is for them is crucial to addressing this lack of parity. To the The Bishop Strchan School (BSS) graduate Jocelyn Wall, her time at BSS set her on the path to studying engineering and gave her the confidence to develop both her academic and leadership skills together.

“As a woman entering a male-dominated field, I’ve never felt anything less than supported and empowered by my peers, teachers, and community to follow my dreams at BSS,” says Wall. “At BSS, I was able to immerse myself in my passion for technology by joining the VEX Robotics team and competing with the school at the Harvard Science Olympiad. Both inside and outside of the classroom, the strong learning community of BSS created an environment in which I could develop my confidence and then graduate knowing I have everything it takes to achieve my goals.”

Determination to pursue the chosen profession is as important as technical knowledge. BSS’ approach to education is not only designed to inspire students’ academic achievement, but also to encourage them to develop confidence, purpose and leadership, says Kristen Clarke, Dean of Teaching and Learning at the school.

“Investigation is at the heart of what we do at BSS,” says Clarke. “We have high expectations of our students to ask great questions, explore ideas, develop new ways of thinking and share their insights. This investigative approach is associated with a just mindset.”

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Preparation for college success

BSS’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses introduced Wall to university-level content and gave her the opportunity to challenge herself and explore topics close to her heart. AP courses help students get a picture 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, and problem-solving and mathematical reasoning skills through AP Physics,” says Wall. “Now that I am starting my engineering degree at the University of Toronto, I feel well prepared as I am more familiar with the university level content and have gained invaluable skills that I will use throughout my studies.”

A new kind of leader

For Wall, developing her leadership skills outside of academia played a big part in building her confidence. BSS gives girls of all ages the opportunity to take on leadership roles, including on sports teams, clubs and in the classroom. In addition, senior students may run events and activities and assume formal leadership roles in student administration. There’s even a special leadership program to help young women see themselves as leaders.

“Our goal is to develop the leadership of our students so that their purpose resonates with them and impacts others,” said Charlotte Fleming, director of leadership and service at BSS. “Our programs focus the student’s voice and passion and encourage collaboration and the ‘act of doing’. Skill development through direct classes, training, and retreats provides our students with the tools to have confidence in their ability to be authentic, transformative leaders. And these deliberate efforts reinforce the idea that a title doesn’t make a leader; Leadership can be learned. It doesn’t have to be loud, and it’s about empowering and uplifting those around you.”

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

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

For more information on Bishop Strachan School’s programs and offerings, click here.

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