Most rarely ever go to the technology wing of the school. The hallway, farthest away from the cafeteria (and half of the classes), a seemingly distinct lack of windows, is not a place lots of people ever had any interest in going to. However, there are quite a few that, if given the chance, would take one of the power tool-packed workshops over the average classroom any day. Out of these interested students, a very small percentage are girls.

“About 90% of all my classes are boys, which is a shame,” said Mr. Abraham Kang, a teacher who takes over one of the larger shops four blocks a day. “I find girls tend to do better in my classes, on average. There’s a common stigma that girls don’t think they can be part of a shop class, because they think it’s either dirty work or really tough, but in reality, 99% of the females in my shop class excel, find passion in what they’re building, and they tend to come back.”

Whelan’s art project

One of the girls who excel, grade 12 Jasmine Whelan, has taken Industrial Design since grade 9. Despite being in the gender minority, Whelan does not think she is at a disadvantage.

“There’s people who slack off, don’t really care and just kind of make whatever, but then there’s people who really do care about the course and have awesome ideas and try to make some really cool stuff,” said Whelan. “I really wish more girls signed up for this course, because they have all these super creative ideas. A lot of the guys are just here for the tech. Girls have really creative ideas that guys can’t really think of. Guys have cool ideas, with structure and stuff, while girls have more artsy, out-there projects.”

There is a common assumption that girls just are not strong enough to handle the power tools required in courses like Power Technology and Industrial Design. Whelan disagrees. “With tech stuff, people don’t really think girls are tough enough to handle the tools, or they can get hurt more. But a lot of the girls are actually more careful with the tools, we know how to back off.”

This assumption is backed up by the lack of background that most girls have in technology fields. “I had to drop out of auto because the class was taught assuming that you already knew all this stuff, but I didn’t,” said grade 10 student, April Kornitsky. However, Kornitsky excelled in Kang’s Woodworking class last year. “I learned a lot about woodworking in middle school because I worked really hard and asked the teacher a lot of questions. I definitely tried harder than most of the boys in my class.”

Valerie Weng with a box she made

This, apparently, is a common trend among girls in shop classes. “Girls work harder so they’re noticed and taken seriously, and they come out with better projects than the boys,” said Kornitsky.

However, this hasn’t discouraged the females in the classes. Industrial Design teacher, Mr. David Romani, has observed that there has been a dramatic increase in girls enrolling in his classes in recent years.

“I tend to find that there’s a different demographic here in Port Coquitlam, especially with such diverse backgrounds,” said Romani. “I try to make the course as interesting as possible. My goal isn’t to make kids into industrial designers, my goal is to have the kids understand the design process. Girls who see all the machinery may say ‘this isn’t for me’ but if they’re passionate about design, this is totally the thing for them.”

Esther Huang with a table she made

So, the question remains: how do we convince girls, especially those coming into grade nine, that they can belong in a shop class, despite the subjects being mostly male driven? According to Romani, it all lies in making sure students know what their options are.

“I always tell students to pursue an area of passion for them. There’s a lot of jobs that haven’t even been invented, related to technology. You can’t ask someone to pursue something that isn’t even there, so instead of pursuing a career, they should pursue their passions,” said Romani.

Regardless of your background, the classes in the technology wing are places of creation, working with your hands, and finding a source of pride in the things you make.

“I only need two things from kids: effort and attitude. Then the sky’s the limit.”