High school students attend inaugural GEMS II camp

GEMS II camp

Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) near-peer mentor Ricardo Vargas, center, looks on as GEMS II interns Karen Vargas and Christian Brough dissect a sheep brain June 16 at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. This was the first year that GEMS II was offered to high school students at the USAISR. (Photo courtesy of Steven Galvan, USAISR Public Affairs Officer)

For the first time in four years the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research hosted GEMS II, or Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, camp for high school students along with GEMS I for middle school students. The Army-sponsored camps held at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, are designed to spark interest in students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The four-day camps were packed with hands-on activities designed to expose the students or interns to subjects in sensory and cardiovascular physiology; neuromuscular reflexes; blood typing; types of bacteria; DNA structure and function; surgical knots and suturing techniques; dentistry; and hair, fiber and fingerprint analysis. The classroom instruction and laboratory hands-on events were facilitated and led by two resource teachers (Texas licensed teachers) and five college students, known as near-peer mentors.

"We are very excited to be offering the camp to high school students this year," said Stephanie Truss, a GEMS program coordinator. "Not only do we get to expand our curriculum and offer new and challenging activities, but students who attended the GEMS I camp can now return and attend GEMS II."

Hunter Strating was one of the first returning interns. She attended the camp in 2013 and said that she was thrilled to learn that she could come back for the next level camp.

"I really liked it [GEMS I] so I wanted to do it again," said Strating. "This one is more advanced, but like the first time, it's interesting, fun, and I'm making new friends."

New activities were added to the GEMS II curriculum that were not previously offered in GEMS I. The new activities included dissecting bovine eyes and sheep brains and working with live crickets. Additionally, after performing hands-on activities, the students learned from USAISR investigators about their research in these areas. Other interesting firsts that occurred this summer were two sisters working together as near-peer mentors, and a brother working as a near-peer mentor while his younger sister attended the camp as an intern.

Teresa and Heather Hall are both students at Texas A&M and worked together as near-peer mentors. At only 15 months apart in age, they have had the opportunity to work together before and were delighted to have the chance to work together again this summer.

"Working with Teresa is a lot of fun because getting to collaborate with her in our areas of interest is a unique opportunity," said Heather.

"Heather and I work really well together," said Teresa. "Being so close in age has meant that we have been able to work together on other things in our lives. It was great to find a summer job where we could continue to do that."

Teresa is a pre-medical student working on a double major in Biochemistry and Genetics with minors in Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies. She said that being able to participate in GEMS as a near-peer is not only beneficial on a personal level, but as a premedical student.

"Medical schools [administrators] love to see that students have this type of experience," she said. "It has also prompted me to enhance my own understanding of the nervous system."

Her sister also believes that being a near-peer is beneficial as she pursue a degree in Elementary Education.

"Since I want to pursue teaching, this is an excellent opportunity to gain experience and exposure to the field."

Ricardo Vargas is also a near-peer who earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from Texas A&M San Antonio this year and will be returning as graduate student to complete his prerequisites for medical school in the fall. He said that GEMS is a great opportunity for him to be involved with science on a personal and engaging level, but is even more rewarding since he's able to share this experience with his younger sister.

"GEMS has been helping me on my career goals by reigniting my passion for Science," he said. "Working with my sister has been fun because it changes the atmosphere for me. I can't take myself too seriously when she's around because she always makes me laugh."

"Having my brother as a near-peer is pretty cool," said Vargas' sister Karen. "It's different telling someone of your experience when they actually live and experience it with you."

Karen also stated that she enjoyed meeting and working with the other interns because it gives everyone the opportunity to share their knowledge and participate in activities that are not offered during the school year.

"My favorite part of GEMS is seeing all of the actual scientists work around me," said Vargas. "Being surrounded by so many professionals is inspiring because it shows that a love for learning pays off."

"I highly recommend this to all kids interested in science," said Strating.

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Last Modified Date: 01-Jul-2015