GEMS + summertime science = fun

By Kelly Sullivan, USARIEMJuly 26, 2012

Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science students
Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science student interns participate in the "CSI" Forensic Lab, where they are given background information and have to conduct hands on experiments in blood typing, finger printing and hair analysis to figure... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. (July 25, 2012) -- For the second year in a row the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine is hosting the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

The Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program, or GEMS, is an extracurricular summer science education program, which enables students to experience science in a real laboratory setting. The GEMS program at USARIEM began during the summer of 2011 with 50 students enrolled in two GEMS I programs.

This summer the program has grown to three GEMS I programs with 75 students ending July 26, followed by two intermediate or GEMS II programs. GEMS II offers the 50 students from last summer the chance to come back and test more advanced experiments. This program will run from July 30 to Aug. 9.

While exploring the GEMS I program this year, student interns investigated problem solving, estimation, water properties, physics/forces of motion and forensics. Students received a stipend to participate in these four-day programs.

Margaret Sparicio, a student intern who will be in the 9th grade in the fall, participated in the third session of the GEMS I program. She said this program has really ignited an interest in the sciences for her.

"This week has been really fun," Sparicio said. "I have taken a little science in previous years but this has been amazing. I definitely want to take more science classes in school now. "

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.

Advanced high school and college aged students called Near-peer mentors lead the GEMS I and II programs and serve as role models for the students. Near-peer mentors completed extensive training where 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 program. Daniel Eggers, a teacher at Weymouth High School and the resource teacher for the GEMS program says that it is the Near-Peer mentors that make the program exceptional.

"Each mentor has contributed a lot to the curriculum this year based on their personal interests," Eggers said. "It is their responsibility to make sure the whole program goes smoothly from day to day, from leading tours to doing administrative tasks to taking on a leadership role in the classes, the Near-peer mentors have been phenomenal."

In 2005 a bipartisan panel composed of the House of Representatives and Senators 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.

Dr. (Lt. Col.) Timothy Haley, a clinical director at USARIEM and the organizer of the USARIEM GEMS program said his main goal is to get local Natick students excited about science and engineering.

"The GEMS programs at USARIEM are not only helping to lead to the goals and objectives of the Academies," Haley said. "This is also a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work that is done at Natick Soldier Systems Center to the general community."

Haley, who is a pediatrician, felt that his background prepared him to create the different training scenarios for the student participating in the program. His goal for the GEMS program is that it continues to grow.

"We have received extremely positive feedback from the students and the parents about GEMS," Haley said. "We hope to add GEMS III to the program next year. My goal also is to help set up a GEMS conference where the leaders of each of the programs can come together and continue to make this great program better."

The GEMS program at USARIEM will run now through Aug. 9. Please contact the USARIEM Public Affairs Office for more information.

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