NATICK, Mass. (August 14, 2013) -- Excited middle school students are flocking to the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, at Natick Soldier Systems Center with one goal in mind -- to get nerdy.
For the third year in a row, the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, an extracurricular summer science education program, which enables students to experience science in a real laboratory setting, was hosted at USARIEM.
"Our main objective was to take science and math out of the classroom and put it in a real-world setting," Capt. Carrie Quinn, a research physiologist for USARIEM's Thermal and Mountain Medicine, said. "The kids got to see things here that they wouldn't be able to experience anywhere else. They get to truly see how science and math are everywhere -- even in the Army."
Quinn, program manager for USARIEM GEMS program, said her main goal this year was to create a sense of community while getting students excited about math and science.
"The students were very excited to participate at all levels this year. We were able to add GEMS III to the program, and it has been a huge success," Quinn said. "This is also a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work that is done at Natick Soldier Systems Center to the general community."
The GEMS program at USARIEM began during summer 2011 with 100 students enrolled in four GEMS I programs.
This summer, the program has doubled to three GEMS I sessions, two intermediate, or GEMS II programs and one GEMS III session with 195 students over six weeks.
The program is based on a multi-disciplinary educational curriculum, and is focused on age- and grade-appropriate hands-on activities, in areas such as science, engineering, mathematics, computational sciences, computational biology, biomedical sciences, chemistry and biology.
While exploring the GEMS I program, student interns investigate problem solving, estimation, water properties, physics/forces of motion, and forensics. Students received a stipend to participate in these four-day programs.
Advanced high school and college-aged students called near-peer mentors lead the GEMS programs and serve as role models for the students. near-peer mentors completed extensive training in which they learned how to conduct and teach the GEMS experiments at a science boot camp prior to the student interns' arrival.
The near-peers were also charged with coming up with the curriculum for the GEMS II and III programs. GEMS II features a brain lab, a microbiology tour, flame lab and robotics, while GEMS III boasts lessons in physics, electrolysis and building a custom fuel car.
Jack Gagner, 14, a student intern who will be in the 9th grade in the fall, has participated in all three years of GEMS. Gagner said this program has really kept his interest in math and science.
"I was really happy to come back this year," Gagner said. "In school we learn, but we do not get to be hands on. GEMS really allows us to explore and test what we are learning and I really like that."
Gagner said his favorite part about the program is the counselors or near-peer mentors. He is hoping to come back as a near-peer in future summers and may one day become a biologist.
"The mentors have been so great, nice and encouraging to us," Gagner said. "I would definitely like to stay involved in this program and be a mentor for others."
Daniel Eggers, a teacher at Weymouth High School who has been the resource teacher for the GEMS program for three years in a row, agrees that it is the near-peer mentors that make the program exceptional.
"The near-peer mentors have been phenomenal," Eggers said. "Each day, it is their responsibility to make sure the program goes smoothly from start to finish; from leading experiments to doing administrative tasks to taking on a leadership role in the classes, each mentor has contributed to the program's success based on their personal strengths."
In 2005 a bipartisan panel composed of the House of Representatives and Senate asked the National Academies of Science and Medicine what could be done to strengthen America's position in the global economy in the areas of mathematics and sciences. This panel was concerned that our future work force would be losing jobs in the areas of science and technology.
The answer from the National Academies of Science and Medicine was that there needed to be summer internships for middle and high school students aimed at engaging them in mathematics and science.
The Army created the GEMS program as part of this realization that science and mathematics is important to instill in the younger generations for future prosperity. According to the Army, it has a long history of recognizing that a scientifically and technologically literate citizenry is this country's best hope for a secure, rewarding and successful future.
The GEMS program began as a single program at Walter Reed in 2005 and has expanded to 12 programs across the major Army research installations, including the one at USARIEM.
The GEMS program at USARIEM will run now through August 15th. Please contact the USARIEM Public Affairs Office at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.