Event celebrates young women in STEM fields

Nora Minor, an 8th grader from Elizabethtown, and Sarah Redmon, a Senior at Western Kentucky University, launch a rocket at the GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) conference on Saturday. Minor participated in a workshop at the conference where she was given the opportunity to construct a rocket, launch it, and graph the results. The purpose of the conference was to encourage young girls in science, and give them a creative and informal environment to experiment and learn.

Matt Stahl

WKU, along with several other sponsors, hosted the annual Girls in Engineering, Math and Science event, or GEMS, to promote interest in science and math among young girls.

WKU’s Ogden College SKyTeach program, along with the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana and the Kentucky Science Center, took over Snell Hall and Thompson Complex for the GEMS event on Friday, Oct. 21.

GEMS is an annual event; however, this was the first year of the collaboration with the Girl Scouts and Kentucky Science Center.

GEMS aims to get girls in the Girl Scout program interested in working in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields. The event also offers a track for Girl Scout parents who are interested in learning some of the same things as their daughters.

More than 100 Girl Scouts participated in the event with a full day of activities, including building rockets, creating electrical circuits out of Play-Doh, exploring with microscopes and designing structures to hold as much weight as possible.

Melissa Rudloff, of SKyTeach, was WKU’s representative at the event and said women are still underrepresented in STEM fields.

“Women who are in STEM earn on average 33 percent more than counterparts in other areas,” Rufloff said. “So the STEM field is lucrative financially for women, but there’s definitely underrepresentation. This is about increasing awareness, and increasing participation and interest in an effort to build this to not be the minority in STEM.”

According to statistics from the GEMS event, women make up nearly 50 percent of the population, but hold less than 25 percent of the jobs in STEM fields.

The event was staffed by 65 volunteers, including WKU student volunteers.

“These students who are working this are passionate about furthering their education,” Rudloff said. “Some of them are very passionate about the STEM area so I love seeing all of the smiles from the girls who are here interacting with them.”

Senior Sarah Angelle of Monticello was a student volunteer at the event. This was Angelle’s first year of volunteering at GEMS.

Angelle said her favorite part was seeing how excited the girls participating were to learn.

“Whenever I was helping assistant-leading a session this morning, I got to see lots of hands raised and lots of questions being asked,” Angelle said. “They were really digging in deep to what it means to be doing math and science instead of just sitting in a classroom and passively getting all the information. I could tell that the lightbulbs were definitely going off.”

Angelle said she thinks events like GEMS are important to help teach young girls about STEM related fields.

“These events are so important because women are definitely underrepresented in STEM,” Angelle said. “More than that, I think looking at the cause of why women are underrepresented in STEM is probably because of the traditional guy-girl gender roles and girls thinking that these are guy fields, and so I think that breaking that barrier is super important, and I think that this is a huge step in doing that.”

Shanetti Jones of Bowling Green brought her 10-year-old daughter Myra to the GEMS event. Jones said she thought the event was a good experience for the girls. Jones, whose daughter is a Girl Scout, said they plan on returning to the event next year.

“It’s important for exposure so the girls can see the many ways STEM is used,” Jones said. “I can see that she is opening up and talking and laughing with the other girls her age.”

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].