Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer sciences, and physical sciences, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. A Kentucky NSF EPSCoR-funded project at Centre College is working to address this disparity by engaging middle school girls in fun science activities.

Girls in Engineering Math and Science Club (GEMS) is an after-school science club that aims to provide middle school girls with positive female role models while engaging them with hands-on science experiences that may not be available in the traditional classroom. This project is led by Dr. Leonard Demoranville, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Cecilia Vollbrecht, an undergraduate student at Centre College. Vollbrecht has also recruited several of her classmates to serve as co-mentors for the club.

“We know that middle school is one of the places where we lose a lot of girls from the STEM fields, and so they wanted to go into the schools and present some fun science projects that are a little bit more hands-on than in the classroom… present science in a slightly different way and serve as mentors for those younger girls in the middle school to show them that you can continue in the STEM fields as a woman and be really successful with that,” said Demoranville.

GEMS Club meets weekly at Boyle County Middle School in Danville, KY, just a short drive from the Centre Campus. As club president, Vollbrecht, along with several of her classmates, leads girls through hands-on experiments and activities that cover a wide variety of  science topics, including physics, engineering, biology, and chemistry.

“The funding from EPSCoR has allowed us to do several things we might not have been able to do otherwise. We took a bunch of girls to the University of Kentucky Engineering Day this past February. When we were there, they were able to enter several different contests which they loved! I think it was good for them to be able to apply some of the things that we’ve been working on to these contests,” Vollbrecht said.

Although Dr. Demoranville serves as the principal investigator for this KY NSF EPSCoR award, he acknowledged how critical student involvement has been in supporting the GEMS effort, “I think my favorite part of this whole thing is how student driven it’s been. Ceci and some of the other leaders of the club have really taken this on, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch them develop as they’ve learned the leadership skills. Ceci has led the authoring of the grants that we’ve received… she is very much the heart and soul of the club.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 1355438.

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