For 13 years, Somerset Community College in partnership with NSF has supported and promoted STEM outreach in middle schools in the Laurel County area through two programs: The Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) and G2TECS (a mirror program for 8th grade boys). These programs encouraged middle school students to participate in hands-on learning STEM events, attend college campuses like SCC, UK, UofL, EKU and WKU, and promote a more diverse science and engineering workforce.

 

Due to COVID-19 outbreaks this year, these programs are on hold. That doesn’t mean its organizers, however, aren’t holding out hope for the future.

 

“All of our events are very hands-on, with small groups, and fun,” says Elaine Kohrman, grants coordinator. “It’s hard to imagine putting these events online. To get the full impact of these programs, I think it would have to be in person.”

 

GEMS students, 2019

 

“We don’t know what the restrictions on the public school will be, but about 40% of the school population have elected to stay home…at this point my thought is that March would be possible and postpone until next spring,” says Debra House, Professor of Math, Physics and Astronomy.

 

Even if these programs are pushed to the spring, SCC leaders of the program want to emphasize the impact these events have had over the years on middle schoolers in southern and eastern Kentucky.

 

“We’ve had kids who come to these programs eventually meet back up with us at (SCC) and say, ‘I remember coming here in middle school,’ says Professor House. “this introduces them to STEM at an influential age.”

 

During the program, students participate in hands-on workshops hosted by individuals from emergency medical services, physics and engineering, additive manufacturing, electrical technology, among others.

 

“We want to present opportunities to students at an early age, fostering that excitement and interest so that they have the courage to leave and go school and maybe come back and impact their community scientifically, medically, etc., says House. “These kids have choices they don’t even realize they have. By showing middle and high schoolers various forms of engineering (and other options), we want to show them there’s always choices – don’t shut the door until you know.”

 

Even though the program may be postponed, the passion of its mission continues.

 

“Anyone has the potential to be a great scientist,” says Professor House. They could come from anywhere, and if we don’t provide these students opportunities maybe we’ve missed the next great one. The next big invention could be sitting right here with our 12-13 year-olds.”

 

A video highlighting the work of GEMS and G2TECS can be found here: https://animoto.com/play/nkT6wCZZGihYj3vfGGk1BQ

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