Many school initiatives focus on attracting students to STEM subjects – especially girls, who tend to avoid pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), only 28% of the STEM U.S. workforce are women, signifying a massive gender gap in fast-growing and high-paying STEM fields. 

One school in Germany, Städtische Gesamtschule Gummersbach, is making strides to close that gap. Of the 120 ninth-grade students, 15 girls have signed up for the inventors’ studio, a STEM initiative driven by Gummersbach educator André Kollenberg.

“And they did so on their own initiative," said Kollenberg, who has 16 years of teaching experience.  

His first job was as a carpenter, but he realized he wanted to work with students and give them insights into the most diverse areas of technology. After studying technology, he went into teaching at the Gummersbach school where he also coordinates vocational orientation. 

How has Kollenberg and the Gummersbach school succeeded in attracting more girls to get involved in STEM subjects?

‘You Can Create Anything’

Kollenberg’s motto is, “You can create anything.”

In the classroom, he often compares it to the makers behind “The Simpsons”. The storytellers and cartoon animators can draw anything they have in mind for an episode, bringing their ideas to life. 

It’s the same with CAD and a CNC machine – you can create a real object from an idea, not just with your hands, but with STEM skills. 

“This may sound trite to experienced technicians,” Kollenberg said. “But this incredibly large potential to develop self-efficacy motivates the students a lot.” 

Addressing the gender gap, it's clear to Kollenberg that girls have an inherent interest in STEM subjects.

"In technology classes, they often get better grades than boys, draw more accurately, weigh things up, and approach tasks more prudently and thoughtfully," Kollenberg said. However, it’s usually not enough for them to pursue a corresponding profession. 

"Girls quickly realize that the field is dominated by men, both in companies and at university. You need a strong personality to assert yourself," Kollenberg said. "But at 15, very few are prepared to get involved in an additional battle of the sexes. ” 

Even in the classroom boys soon dominate the field, which is why Kollenberg set up an inventors' studio aimed solely at girls. 

image of students in a classroom learning CAD
André Kollenberg helping students in his classroom.

Onshape in the Inventors’ Studio

In the inventors' studio, students use Onshape to visualize their ideas and develop them into a product that is then printed out via 3D printing. Kollenberg has been using Onshape, the only fully online, cloud-native CAD system that enables remote learning and instruction, in the studio and the classroom since 2021.

"Seeing your own idea take shape and ultimately being able to take it home and use it as a tangible product is the goal," said Kollenberg, which is a prime way to promote self-efficacy in students.

“CAD design in the classroom promotes logical and technical thinking as well as social skills, such as working in a team," he added, much like lessons in vocational schools

While there are many other CAD systems available, Kollenberg said he chose Onshape for his classroom and the inventors’ studio for several reasons: 

  1. Unlike their previous CAD system, Onshape is cloud-based. Since access is via a browser, we became independent of outdated software installations on school computers. 

  2. The collaborative features built into Onshape are made for teaching in schools. Setting up groups, communicating with students, all of these functions were not available in the previous system. 

  3. Onshape has a free education plan available for students and educators.

  4. Thanks to cloud-based technology, we can now create CAD constructions, regardless of the end device and regardless of the location.

Through this initiative and others at the school, Gummersbach was named a “Digital School” by the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry for Schools and Education.

Kollenberg teaching students
André Kollenberg teaching students how to CAD.

Spreading the Message

Plans to increase student excitement for STEM should also include the teaching staff. Without their enthusiasm for scientific and technical topics, little will change.  

So, Kollenberg also designed teacher training courses to break down inhibitions and integrate digital tools into existing classroom content. 

In his course, Kollenberg explains that the use of CAD designs in the classroom promotes logical and technical thinking, as well as social skills, teamwork and problem-solving among students.   

In addition to basic knowledge, the training also provides educators with knowledge about teaching methods and some concrete lesson examples that come from proven school practice projects and cover a range from "getting started" to more complex processes. There is plenty of material for internal differentiation.  

Onshape for Education also offers a video range of resources compiled by educators for educators in the Onshape Learning Center.

CAD a Necessary STEM Skill

For Kollenberg, CAD is the standard for engineering and design projects in STEM industries. 

With Onshape, students learn the basics of 3D modeling and acquire concrete skills that can be used in STEM field.

“Knowing a professional CAD platform like Onshsape would give them a key qualification for all professions,” said Kollenberg  

Get Started with Onshape Education

Onshape for education brings CAD out of the computer lab and into the modern era.

(Bernhard Eberl is the Onshape Education Customer Success Director, Europe and a PTC Wellness Ambassador. Portions of this blog were published in the German newspaper VDI nachrichten. )