GEMS Students Transform into Scientists

Nykia Hanner, intermediate GEMS student, tests the pH levels of common household liquids.

Nykia Hanner, intermediate GEMS student, tests the pH levels of common household liquids.

The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory led the 2nd annual Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Sciences program this summer.

Col. Dana Renta, USAARL commander, hosted a beginning and intermediate program that provided local students with week-long sessions of math and science experiments.

The GEMS program is a U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program that educates students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and is structured to increase students' career interests in these areas by engaging them in hands-on experiments.

USAARL's beginning program, comprised of 50 students who completed fifth- or sixth-grade during the 2011-2012 school year, explored the five senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch). The beginning program curriculum was tailored to incorporate USAARL's research of the brain and neurological processes. For an advanced learning experience, USAARL led an intermediate program that included 35, seventh- and eighth-grade students. The intermediate science and math experiments focused primarily on chemistry, biology, and biochemistry.

"The GEMS experiments challenged the students to practice problem solving techniques," said Sarah Thiel, GEMS lead resource teacher.

GEMS is designed to have college-aged, near-peer mentors lead the program and serve as role models for the students. The 2012 GEMS mentors were Jessica Cumbee (lead mentor, Georgia College & State University), Kristen Simpson (Auburn University), David McKeon (University of Alabama at Birmingham), Madeleine King (Auburn University), Angela Dani (University of Iowa), and Lana Lynn (University of California, Berkley). The mentors completed GEMS curricula training before the start of the program and then used their knowledge about the experiments to teach the students.

"From the beginning, I knew our mentors were outstanding," said Thiel. "After watching them interact with the students, I have no doubt that these mentors positively impacted the lives of the students and that the students positively influenced the mentors."

Each session of the USAARL GEMS program concluded with a tour of USAARL, a showcase during which the students presented their favorite experiments to family and friends, and a graduation ceremony.

During the tour, military and civilian researchers demonstrated and explained how they collect data and conduct experiments to help protect Soldiers. "Before the students conducted their experiments during the week, I explained the relevance between our experiments and USAARL's research. As we toured the Lab, I could see the students' wheels turning in their heads. I felt a sense of achievement that some of our GEMS students may one day grow up to be Department of the Army scientists and engineers," said Thiel.

Each graduation ceremony included an introduction of all GEMS staff members, the presentation of a certificate and $50 stipend to each student, and presentations from a guest speaker. Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, was the guest of honor at the ceremony for the first session of GEMS. He praised the students for their efforts toward becoming future scientists, and their parents for helping them achieve such success.

During the ceremony for the second session of GEMS, Ben Mozo, developer of the Communications Earplug and vice president of Communications & Ear Protection, Inc., encouraged the students to think outside of the box to one day develop and patent a new product. The students in the third session were encouraged by Dr. Matthew Hughes, dean of Instruction at ESCC in Enterprise, to continue their studies and to pursue a college degree. During the ceremony for fourth and final session of GEMS, Dr. Christopher King, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Troy University, instructed the students not only to learn science, but also to develop strong communication and writing skills.

After another year of positive responses to the GEMS program, USAARL is planning to host the program next summer in hopes of adding a new program level for third and fourth graders.

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Last Modified Date: 03-Aug-2012