District 211 Hosts Engineering, Math, Science Conference for Area Fifth and Sixth Grade Girls

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GEMS participants create slime in the polymers session run by ACS.

To get fifth and sixth grade girls interested in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering before they enter high school, High School District 211 hosted its annual program that teaches them about careers in those fields.

The third-annual GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) conference was held on Feb. 9 at James B. Conant High School. Approximately 160 fifth and sixth grade students participated in the hands-on learning sessions and activities that focused on engineering, science, and math.

“I really believe that if students have a teacher in elementary or middle school who isn’t very thrilled about math or science, it can carry over to students and give them a fear of going into what many consider to be male-dominated fields, ” said Courtney Buss, applied technology teacher at Conant High School. “This program is a ray of light to spark their interest in these careers and fields.”

Michele Marasigan, a Conant High School sophomore, helps a GEMS participant during the 3D Modeling session.

Michele Marasigan, a Conant High School sophomore, helps a GEMS participant during the 3D Modeling session.

Women teach the activities, whether they are teachers in the District or in fields such as structural design, polymers, technology, geology, or mathematics. Female students in all five District 211 high schools also worked the events and helped guide fifth and sixth graders through the learning sessions. Buss said because these fields are generally male dominated, exciting students early and showcasing women in the field can help eliminate the notion that men are better suited for these careers.

At the event, there were 25 different career booths and many presenters, including women from the American Chemical Society, Stepan Chemistry, and Northwestern University. The keynote speaker was Hillary M. Peltier, Ph.D, senior scientist II – Chemistry, from Abb Vie, Inc. After listening to opening remarks and the keynote speaker, information and learning sessions were held.

Women from Caterpillar Inc., use VEX robots and sample industry trucks to demonstrate a typical day on the job during the career fair portion of the conference.

Women from Caterpillar Inc., use VEX robots and sample industry trucks to demonstrate a typical day on the job during the career fair portion of the conference.

Parents were invited to the conference as well, but were split into different sessions from their children. Students had hands-on learning sessions, such as Inventor, 3D Modeling, Polymers, Engineering, Manufacturing, Biology, Pathology, and MWM Modules. Parents had sessions regarding what to expect once their child enters high school and how to help them be successful, including Preparing Girls for High School, Spatial Reasoning, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) discussions.

Not only was the afternoon informational, but also was designed for fun. Students could participate in games and raffles. They also received goody bags, which were donated by various organizations, including Sargent-Welch, Steven Spangler Science, and Holt McDougal. District 211 already has received feedback from parents explaining how their daughters had such a great experience and that they are looking forward to next year’s conference.

Conant Project Lead the Way student volunteers helped during in the 3D modeling sessions.

Conant Project Lead the Way student volunteers helped during in the 3D modeling sessions.

“We have heard from parents, and they get so excited about GEMS, and they’ve said their daughters enjoy it so much,” Buss said. “Last year, a student won a microscope, and you would never think a fifth grade girl would be so enamored by a microscope, but it absolutely made her day. She uses it and it’s great to see those connections after the event.”

Although this is the third year for the conference, first-year event participants are currently in eight grade and will be entering high school next year. With this class, the District will be able to track the girls enrolling in engineering, science, and mathematics courses. Buss said it is exciting to see the conference heading into its next stage and to see if the program is making an impact on girls entering science and math driven paths.

“Our first sixth graders that participated are eighth graders now, and they have maintained a connection through our Project Lead the Way summer camps,” Buss said. “It’s very exciting to see that these students are interested in our program.”

For more information about GEMS, please visit the GEMS blog.