District 211 Hosts Fourth Annual GEMS Conference for Area Fifth, Sixth Grade Girls

Fifth and sixth grade students participate in hand-on activities during GEMS.

Fifth and sixth grade students participate in hand-on activities during GEMS. Photos courtesy HR Imaging Partners

District 211 strives to introduce all of its students to various fields of study, and with an annual event, fifth and sixth grade girls get to explore mathematics, science, and engineering before they enter high school.

The fourth annual GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) conference was held at Conant High School on Feb. 8, and area students participated in hands-on activities that focused on engineering, science, and math presented entirely by women. Since the first GEMS event, female freshman enrollment in engineering courses has increased to 22.5 percent.

“We’re trying to inspire girls to not be afraid of things they may not have a lot of experience with,” said Terri Busch, assistant superintendent for Instruction. “If we can continue to inspire young girls to pursue and explore what’s possible in engineering, math, or science, that could be a life changer for them.”

The entire conference is taught by women, 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 learning sessions.


Photos courtesy HR Imaging Partners

During GEMS, students attend a career expo that features professional representatives from 77 companies such as Motorola Solutions, Northwest Community Healthcare, and MAGMA Foundry Technologies. Career advisers at each high school invited representatives to GEMS with the help of Northwest Education Council for Student Success.

After, students attended hands-on learning sessions and presentations, such as 3D Modeling, Polymers, Forensics, Motorola, Kraft Foods, Water Quality, Engineering Design, and Foundry Workshop. During activities, parents attended sessions regarding college student experience, polymers, and Spatial Reasoning.

Since the first GEMS event, District 211 has seen an increase in female students enrolling in engineering classes. Sixth grade students who participated in the first GEMS conference in 2010-2012 are now freshmen in high school, and 22.5 percent of students enrolled in Intro to Engineering and Design are female. GEMS is a contributing factor to this increase in enrollment.

Photos courtesy HR Imaging Partners

Photos courtesy HR Imaging Partners

“We looked at all the freshman enrolled in the first class in the engineering sequence, and 22.5 percent of students enrolled in that class are female,” Busch said. “In 2011-2012 of all females in all Project Lead the Way courses in the District were 13.3 percent. Today, my freshman females exceed the total overall enrollment.”

Busch said there is an increase in the number of females pursuing engineering in high school, and there are several factors for that such as the District 211 summer academies, District 54 and 15’s gateway to engineering program. Those programs in addition to GEMS are what she said she believes will keep this momentum going.

“GEMS is just a great event for our girls, parents, teachers and our District,” Busch said. “It’s a great community event to bring professionals into our schools to work with our students. We’re very please with this event, and it will continue.”