By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 29, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- School will be starting in the coming weeks, but some students will have a head start when it comes to their education through one program on Fort Rucker designed to cultivate minds.
The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory held its final session of the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program, which ran July 18-22, with lessons and experiments on biochemistry, nanotechnology and neuroscience, stimulating the minds of students ranging from grades four to 11.
"GEMS has been very successful this summer," said Dr. Lori St. Onge, USAARL research administration manager and GEMS program coordinator. "We ended up having 383 students participate with 28 staff members, in addition to eight (Department of Defense Education Activity) observing teachers participate in the program. It's the largest group we've had since we started back in 2011."
The general feedback throughout the program has been positive with many repeat students going through the program, such as Daniel McConeghy and Hunter Savell, who said they enjoyed what the program was able to provide for them.
"I just moved here a little over a year ago and we first heard about this program through a neighbor," said Savell. "It sounded fun because I love science and math, and it just seemed like a lot of fun. I wish this is was what school was like. Sometimes, for the science, you don't get to do any of the experiments in school like you do here."
McConeghy, who will be going into the fifth grade, said he first heard about GEMS when his science teacher gave him a flier about the program. From there he did a little research online and then asked his father if he could go through the program. To his delight, the answer was yes.
"I want to be a doctor when I grow up, so I want to go all the way through the program in the upper grades, because in 11th grade I can do medical GEMS, so I'm excited for that," he said.
Although they're not quite to the medical portion yet, during their time in GEMS they focused a lot on neuroscience where they learned about how the brain works, different parts of the brain, and the different senses.
To give them more of a hands-on approach, they even got the chance to dissect a cow eyeball.
"It helped us learn about how the eyes focus onto the retina," said McConeghy.
In other modules, students were focusing on biochemistry where they learned about polymers and how they react with other substances, according to Latasha Henderson, GEMS resource teacher for the biochemistry module.
Throughout the biochemistry module the students also got the chance to learn about DNA, even extracting DNA from wheat germ and different fruits.
Although these experiments might seem daunting to some, the students had no problem with the help of their near-peer mentors to help out.
Zach Den Besten, who is a college student at Huntington College, is one of those mentors and he said he enjoyed helping the students learn.
"I love science, so I want to get them excited about it, too," he said. "I love teaching and I really enjoy the kids. A lot of these kids remind me of me when I was their age, so I love to be here and teach them."
For Fareeda Adejumr, GEMS student going into 10th grade, the program was also a lesson in teamwork and working as one.
"We had to build straw towers to help us study structural integrity," she said. "This program helps us learn about communication and teamwork because you have to work together to build these things. You can't do it all by yourself."
All of the lessons combined with the help of different organizations on post are what help to make the program so successful, according to St. Onge.
"If we didn't have other organizations on Fort Rucker willing to let us use their facilities, we could not have the program with this number of students," said the program coordinator. "This is not just a STEM camp. This is their opportunity to learn about career opportunities within the Department of Defense and within the Army, and this helps them get a head start on learning about those career opportunities. It really is a community effort. Without the support of the installation and leadership, none of this would be possible."