Another Successful GEMS Program in the Books
The U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command completed another successful Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program this summer.
The program was held at Hood College from June 27 – August 12 for local students in grades four through 12. Advanced high school and college students (referred to as Near-Peer Mentors) and local teachers (Resource Teachers) educated students about various science, technology, engineering and math concepts in an interactive and engaging format. Site coordinators, Army subject matter specialists and MRDC career speakers participated and contributed to the program's success as well.
GEMS is an Army-sponsored STEM enrichment program that typically takes place in participating Army research laboratories and engineering centers across the country. GEMS is offered through the Army Educational Outreach Program, and offers the opportunity for students to get involved in hands-on science activities that relate to various STEM careers. A main goal of GEMS is to reach students who are historically underserved or underrepresented in STEM areas. The program is based on a multi-disciplinary educational curriculum, and is focused on age and grade-appropriate curriculum areas such as science, engineering, mathematics, computational sciences, computational biology, biomedical sciences, chemistry and biology.
A key aspect of GEMS is the use of Near Peer Mentors to educate and inspire attending students. In this role, NPMs introduce STEM principles and act as role models by promoting science, math and STEM career pathways. The NPMs, who are close in age to the GEMS students, create a relaxed atmosphere ideal for learning. In addition, NPMs facilitate formal and informal discussions with students about extra-curricular activities, college application process, projected career path and experiences that encouraged their interest in STEM. NPMs complete two weeks of training prior to assuming their role, during which time they work with GEMS staff and volunteers to prepare for the position. Moreover, they collaborate with each other as lessons are tweaked and presentations developed. In turn, they use this knowledge to teach GEMS participants optimizing learning for both the mentor and the students. Nisha Thope relayed her experience as a NPM, saying, "[Serving as a Near Peer Mentor] was one of the most fulfilling and educational experiences for me. I learned so much from my peers and from the students and I appreciate GEMS for giving me a chance to be a NPM."
During the training prior to students' arrival, GEMS staff mastered the curriculum, fine-tuned lessons, developed presentations, organized materials and were exposed to various teaching techniques. In addition, Army subject matter specialists introduced science experiments and procedures that would be taught to GEMS students. Resource Teachers and Site Coordinators provided guidance and support to NPMs to ensure that they were prepared and ready to lead the GEMS modules ahead of the programs onset.
At the start of the program, NPMs successfully imparted their newly-developed skills and information to the GEMS participants. The labs and classrooms buzzed with engaged and motivated students as they were introduced to hands-on activities in a real laboratory setting. Activities included DNA analysis, dissections, solar oven testing, robotics and block coding. Students also participated in a career speaker series presented by MRDC volunteers. An elementary student in the Earth and Environmental module recounted her involvement by saying, "The GEMS program was really fun. My favorite part was dissecting the squid. I also enjoyed graduating, getting a beautiful certificate and playing Science Jeopardy!"
Site Coordinator Kiley Duncan reflected on the program by saying, "It was so nice to see the dedication and motivation displayed by the NPM and Resource Teachers. The students were all engaged and excited to learn hands-on STEM concepts. The Army experts and career speakers were extremely beneficial as they introduced students and NPM to different career paths and opportunities. Overall, it was a great experience for all involved in the GEMS summer program."