Over 70 local students attended this year's Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science's week-long summer camp, July 24-28. GEMS is an annual enrichment summer camp hosted at White Sands Missile Range that is run collaboratively between the U.S. Army Research and Laboratory and the Army Test and Evaluation Command. Engineers from both organizations coordinate the GEMS I middle school and GEMS II high school programs that are sponsored by the Army Educational Outreach Program.
"It's been something special," said Joshua, a high school student from Harmony Science Academy in El Paso, Texas. "I've never participated in anything with a focus on engineering and that's what I like. Computer science, engineering and technology really catches my attention and that's what GEMS is."
Joshua said he plans to go to college and continue learning but he's stuck between engineering, computer science and computer engineering. He said he's currently leaning towards electrical engineering.
All middle school and high school students are eligible to apply, but there are rigorous requirements to be accepted into the program because of the large volume of applications received. This year was the first year GEMS I and GEMS II were held on the same week. Normally, GEMS I would be held one weekand GEMS II would be held the following week.
GEMS II was coordinated locally by Julian Britton, WSMR ARL computer engineer. He said this year 115 high school students applied but only 40 were selected. There were 20 students who were selected from El Paso, Texas, and 20 students who were selected from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
"I think it's pretty awesome they get to work with real world engineers and understanding why we're studying it in school," said Priscilla Terrazas, a GEMS volunteer who teaches at Anthony Middle School in El Paso, Texas.
The students meet at a designated drop-off zone in El Paso and Las Cruces and are transported by bus to WSMR. Students participated in different sets of modules on a daily basis and there were four modules a day. Students in GEMS II were able to work on more advanced modules like rocketry and circuit boards, and students in GEMS I worked on modules focused on robotics and experimentation. The students rotated between modules from Tuesday through Thursday. On Monday all of the students were able to experience life as a Soldier by learning how to fire paintballs and ate MREs. On Friday the students were able to rappel from a military training tower and ended the program with a pizza and pool party.
"It's been more than I expected," Joshua said.
Mariette Mealor, ATEC deputy leadership and professional development coordinator, led the local coordination efforts for GEMS II again this year. She said this year they accepted the same amount of students as last year, 19 students from Las Cruces and 13 students from El Paso. The 32 middle school students came from 13 different schools in the surrounding area.
"They don't have those type of opportunities where I teach," Terrazas said. "Their parents don't even have resources to bring them to the drop off zone so I pick them up and drop them off."
Terrazas said she advertised the summer program a lot during school. Out of 10 applicants who Terrazas said applied, only 3 got in.
"It's really going to open their eyes knowing that there's a lot to offer in terms of STEM careers," she said. "I can see it now. I can tell one student already telling me he wants to be an engineer, he just doesn't know what type yet."
Aside from the coordination efforts from Britton and Mealor, Britton said the group of children from GEMS I and GEMS II are broken up into different sets of teams throughout the week. Each team has a volunteer teacher as their leader and each module has four sets of near-peer mentors, mentors who were once in the program and are closer in age to the students. Terrazas said she found out about the program from her brother, who works at ARL and applied for the program as soon as she found out what it was about.
"I did not expect this at all," she said. "They're using real circuit boards and these rockets…it's just awesome."
Students can apply as early as February for the current year's summer program. Britton said once the deadline for the program has been met, four teachers go through all of the applications and score them based on the student's response. Britton said they then base their selection on the scores the students received.
For more information about the program, visit: http://www.usaeop.com/programs/stem-enrichment-activities/gems/