The Centre GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science) group from Centre College is combining education and service to help local girls explore the power of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.
Student mentors from the College teach girls at Bate Middle School, Boyle County Middle School and Toliver Elementary School weekly lessons on chemistry- and physics-related activities. They have also taken a few field trips and plan to incorporate more biology and math into lessons in order to give a comprehensive overview of the sciences.
“Our goal is to show the girls that science is fun, give them positive role models and help increase their confidence in themselves while also teaching them some different STEM concepts using fun hands-on activities,” Ceci Vollbrecht ’17, founder of the group, explained. “Hopefully by working with these students and building relationships with them we show them that they can do anything they set their mind to.”
Studies show that girls tend to lose interest and confidence in the STEM fields around late elementary school and middle school, which affects the number of women in the STEM fields at the collegiate level and in the workforce. Vollbrecht, a chemistry major, was involved in a similar program in high school and was inspired to start a local program that would actively engage girls in science and math so they could gain confidence and passion for those fields.
The program began with just seven Centre mentors at Boyle County Middle School and averaged around 12 participating girls each week. By the end of the year, their science teachers noticed that the girls were more engaged in class, asked more questions, participated more overall and that many had “found their voice,” Vollbrecht said.
This year, the program has expanded thanks to many Centre students who are willing to mentor and because of grants from the KY Girls STEM Collaborative and KY NSF EPSCOR Education, Outreach and Communication. Olivia Curtis ’18, Emily Kidwell ’18 and Katie Messersmith ’18 are leading a new branch at Toliver, while Vollbrecht and Shannon Murray ’17 maintain the Boyle County branch, and Adrienne Kinney ’17 has started a second new branch at Bate.
“We expected about a dozen girls this year, like we had at the Boyle County GEMS, but on the very first day we showed up to a room of about 25 girls and it has increased by one or two each time we’ve gone, as the girls encourage their friends to come,” Curtis said.
Curtis also explained that, as college students at a liberal arts school, the mentors realize that science is a way of thinking and looking at the world. They therefore start each activity with a small group discussion where the girls can hypothesize about the experiment instead of the mentors simply lecturing.
“We want to show the girls at the elementary and middle schools that science isn’t ‘just for boys,’ but women can be equally successful in the sciences,” she concluded. “More than that, we want to encourage them to be confident in themselves and their ideas (science-related or not) and also be creative in their thinking. Their thoughts are important and deserve to be heard.”
Pictured above: A GEMS group on a field trip to Centre College to explore the science labs and learn about careers in STEM fields.
by Elise L. Murrell
November 19, 2015