Catholic Memorial High School (CMH) is showcasing three outstanding female teachers leading the school’s nationally recognized STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, a historically male-dominated industry. Women’s History Month is a fitting stage to highlight Mary Petrie, Sandy Rice and Sharon Tomski, whose work developing CMH’s top-ranked STEM program is nothing short of historic.
Petrie, Rice and Tomski are the dynamic teachers that lead the three strands of STEM curriculum offered at Catholic Memorial: engineering, biomedical science and computer science, respectively. Under their direction, the STEM program has been awarded as a Distinguished School for STEM by Project Lead the Way, a national organization that develops STEM curriculum, and is the only school in Wisconsin to earn the distinction for three consecutive years. The three teachers have also expanded the program in their tenure at CMH, which now includes an internship opportunity for seniors to apply their education in the real world. They have also overseen the increase in participation from CMH students in STEM courses in the 11 years of the program to 43 percent (209 students) of students enrolled in STEM courses. That statistic this school year includes 71 female students involved in the STEM fields and is set to increase next fall.
Petrie, a 2020 Herb Kohl Teaching Award recipient, is also a 1976 CMH alumna and was the first female student to take a mechanical drawing class at Catholic Memorial. She went on to graduate from Marquette University and became a mechanical engineer. She transitioned to teaching as her second profession after filling in for a teacher at a middle school and loved the experience so much she went back to school to get her teaching degree.
“When I started working as a mechanical engineering, I didn’t know of any other females in my profession, and that was difficult,” said Petrie. “Thankfully, times are changing. I believe that in order for a project to be successful, you need varying ideas and approaches. Women and men think differently, and having both males and females involved gives you the best of both worlds.”
In Rice’s 28 years of teaching in the science field, she made a point of incorporating the latest technology into her science lessons, blending the curriculums to make more dynamic and interactive classes. When she shifted to teaching the biomedical science strand in STEM at Catholic Memorial four years ago, where the focus was a continuous blend of cross-curricular lessons, it was a perfect fit.
“I am proud to teach STEM, and as a female, I hope that I am a good role model and inspiration to other young ladies to pursue their interests in the biomedical field,” said Rice. “The students at CMH are what I find amazing. They are motivated, thoughtful and caring individuals. Our STEM curriculum encourages creativity, teamwork and knowledge application. This can be challenging at times and our students are willing to work and learn from each other and that is inspiring.”
Tomski brings an incredible background of trailblazing roles before leading the Computer Science strand at CMH including working as a product development engineer, teaching at the Naval Nuclear Power School in South Carolina, and working as a counterterrorism analyst, in addition, she is a retired Navy Commander. In response to being a female in a male-dominated industry for teaching, Tomski’s response was, “I work with the best teachers ever in our STEM program; they just happen to be female.”