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BHS Skateboard Workshop Engages Underrepresented Students in STEM

Berkeley High School (BHS) teacher Dirk Wright is starting an after-school, semester-long skateboard workshop to motivate underrepresented students in engineering, robotics, carpentry, and design classes to try a lower-stakes Career Technical Education (CTE) class. 

The workshop is made to encourage students who have never tried CTE classes or who are marginalized in these programs to explore woodworking, mechanics, and artistic expression. It is also meant to encourage students who have completed the course to enroll in other engineering, carpentry, and design courses offered at BHS. 

This workshop is not for credit and is not graded, so students can focus on the hands-on experiences rather than their grade. 

In the workshop, students will spend two hours a week developing skills like using power tools, as well as working in the woodshop and metalshop. The end goal of this workshop is for every student to make their own skateboard. 

At BHS, 171 male students are enrolled in CTE programs, but only 43 female students are enrolled. 

“Students from groups under-represented in engineering [and] trades are unlikely to self-sign up for a full year course in one of these fields,” Wright said. 

Wright also said these students are more likely to sign up for CTE courses related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) if they are introduced to the field with a shorter and lower stakes course. 

Clayton Hotson, a Berkeley High alumnus and senior principal research engineer at Autodesk, has been studying software and engineering projects for over 20 years. 

“Diversity [in STEM] breeds interesting discussions and possibilities about technical approaches,” he said. 

Hotson also shared his personal experience with the gender gap in STEM. “In my direct team we have two women engineers,” he said. 

Since BHS’ ratio of female to male students is unequal, enrollment of girls and other inadequately represented groups will be prioritized for this course. However, Wright said all students will be welcome to join, with the exception of students who are already enrolled in STEM CTE courses at BHS. 

“We see this as an unnecessary [disparity] that conflicts with the goals of both our program and the need to diversify technical workplaces,” Wright said. 

When Wright sent out a survey to students enrolled in CTE courses at BHS, trying to determine what the workshop would teach, some students liked the idea of building guitars or bikes as opposed to skateboards. Other suggestions included model rockets, chairs, and other furniture. Wright and other carpentry teachers involved with the project decided that it could be too complicated or take too much time to build some objects other than skateboards.

“Some other projects were more popular, for example, building guitars, but either involved too complicated carpentry, high-level construction techniques, and/or were only made out of wood or only made out of metal,” Wright said.

The BHS Skateboard Workshop applied for a grant to be funded by the Berkeley High School Development Group (BHSDG). 

The grant covered costs of materials like plywood, nuts, bolts, Styrofoam, and wheels. The grant also provided the funds to pay for a student instructional assistant, who will be a BHS student experienced in engineering, carpentry, and design to assist and co-instruct the course. The student instructional assistant will be paid a wage of $16 an hour. 

This project has received the funding from the BHSDG; however, the skateboard workshop has not started yet. Wright hopes to open applications during the last two weeks of September and to start the workshop the first week of October. The workshop coordinators expect to hang posters and make an announcement when dates and times are determined. They are also still looking for a student instructional assistant. 

“Students will have an opportunity to gain confidence as a person who can build things and ultimately have a finished product in their hands,” Wright said.

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