Youth science program returns to Fort Rucker this summer
Nathan Pool, then 13, mixes a single molecule polymer for class last summer during the GEMS program at The Commons.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 11, 2013) -- Applications for the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory's Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program are available for parents to complete in order to claim a spot in the summer, week-long course for their child.

The program is open to the public and is free of cost, but only 24 students will be permitted in each session. Participants must be in fifth through eighth grade during the 2012-2013 school year, according to Loraine St. Onge, GEMS program coordinator.

GEMS is an extracurricular science, technology engineering and math education program designed to help promote students' development and interest in STEM subjects and give them an opportunity to engage in hands-on experiments, she added.

"It is a fun experience for the kids. They really enjoy the experiments, and interacting with their mentors as well as the engineers and scientists here at USAARL," she said. "The goal is to show them that science and math are fun. They don't even realize they are learning because they are enjoying themselves."

The program will be held at the USAARL laboratory and classes will be conducted from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Parents must choose one session their child is to attend; each session is one week long.

"Monday through Thursday we will conduct experiments, and on Friday we spend the morning touring the facility and learning about research that is conducted [here]. In the afternoon, we have the GEMS showcase where the students lay out all of their experiments and present them to their parents," said St. Onge.

May 3 is the last day applications for students will be accepted. For fifth and sixth graders, the physical science and forensics program dates are June 10-14, June 17-21 and June 24-28. For seventh and eighth graders, the robotics program will be offered July 15-19 and July 22-26.

The course is not a summer camp, although the students learn while having fun, according to officials. Students are considered interns in the program who will receive a stipend if they complete the course.

"We want them to get interested in these fields and to realize that there are career pathways for scientists and engineers within the DOD. We want to get them interested in STEM career pathways and fields -- either as a Soldier or a civilian," said St. Onge.

Students will get exposure to a laboratory setting as well as practice the scientific method, solve problems and get comfortable with public speaking.

"Some of the activities that the children will do in the physical science and forensic program are fingerprinting, color-mapping, experiments with water temperatures, and they will build a car and solve a mystery.

"The robotics program students will build and program a robot to maneuver and conquer different tasks," St. Onge added.

The program could potentially be a life-changing experience for participants, according to the program's coordinator.

"It is fun and can strengthen their math and science skills or reinforce those skills. It also gets children's brains working during the summer. It keeps them engaged. Their minds are not on vacation, at least for that week," said St. Onge. "It also helps them make new friends from all over the community and meet peers and adults that inspire them."

Based on the responses of GEMS participants on surveys administered before and after participation, student's attitudes toward core subjects improved.

"Seventy-nine percent of 2012 GEMS participants expressed interest in participating in the GEMS program in the future," said St. Onge.

There are only 12 GEMS programs in the country and it is the only one of its kind in the local community, according to officials.

"The kids don't learn things that they have already learned in school. [We] try really hard to not overlap, so they can build on things they already know," said Catherine Davis, GEMS program assistant.

Near-peer mentors are also needed for the program. Interested college students should complete an application by May 3. Mentors will be working and interacting with the children, monitoring their experiments and teaching them during the entire summer program. Mentors earn a competitive educational stipend.

Application packets can be dropped off at USAARL or can be mailed in, emailed or faxed.

For more information and applications, visit

Page last updated Thu April 11th, 2013 at 11:44