Indiana Daily Student

Online GEMS conference invites girls, nonbinary students to experiment, meet women in STEM

<p>Students participate in the science experiment expo March 23, 2019, during the Monroe County Community School Corporation&#x27;s third annual Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science Conference at Bloomington High School North. About 90 girls and nonbinary students will extract DNA from wheatgrass, meet women in the STEM field and make their own bouncy balls at the 2021 GEMS virtual event Saturday.</p>

Students participate in the science experiment expo March 23, 2019, during the Monroe County Community School Corporation's third annual Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science Conference at Bloomington High School North. About 90 girls and nonbinary students will extract DNA from wheatgrass, meet women in the STEM field and make their own bouncy balls at the 2021 GEMS virtual event Saturday.

About 90 girls and nonbinary students will extract DNA from wheatgrass, meet women in the STEM field and make their own bouncy ball at a three-hour online science conference 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday.

Monroe County Community School Corporation organized the event, called GEMS, which stands for Girls in Engineering, Math and Science. The conference is split into two parts: one expo and 12 breakout sessions. This is the fourth year of the event.

All of the links and information for the event were compiled into a page on Canvas, which is the website MCCSC kids use to complete their class assignments. Registration is closed for GEMS.  

For the expo, the 4-6 graders will have 30 minutes to click through a Google Slides presentation, which will be linked on the Canvas page, said Katy Sparks, MCCSC district-wide STEM and computer science coach. Each slide on the document is a virtual “booth” for the organizations participating in the expo: IU School of Optometry, IU Department of Astronomy, Leadership In Flight Training Academy, Johnson Controls, and Scouts Boy Scouts of America Troop 1148 for Girls. The slides will have links to videos about the organization and what kind of jobs are available there.

While at previous, in-person events students had more one-on-one interaction with female professionals, Sparks said this year the students will be able to look back at information about jobs they liked and booths they didn’t see during the 30-minute time window.

MCCSC Director of Elementary Education Debra Prenkert said this portion of the event is important because it allows the participants to see the different jobs they can pursue in the science field and see women working in those careers.

“It just allows them to see themselves in different career paths and occupations that maybe they didn’t even know existed,” Prenkert said. “Who knows what will come out of these connections?”

The presentation also includes a virtual makerspace, book room and wellness room, which the students can explore during the expo or in between breakout sessions. 

Following the expo, the students will split up into four groups, each working through a different rotation of the breakout rooms. They will participate in three of the 12 different activities led by volunteers from different science fields over Microsoft Teams calls.

Although the event is online, the students will do hands-on experiments by using pre-distributed kits.

Lizzie Johnson, MCCSC district science coordinator and Bloomington High School North teacher, said some of the experiments that will be conducted include extracting DNA from wheatgrass, making a bouncy ball and experimenting with Google’s teachable machine. In the session with Google’s teachable machine, the students will program their cameras to categorize different mineral samples, which will be included in the kits, when they hold them in front of the lens.

Sparks said she is excited to have a computer science breakout session this year because more female students are expressing interest in the area. She said last year during the robotics tournaments at the MCCSC, she saw about equal representation of boys and girls and even saw some all-girl teams.

“Girls are starting to get more and more excited about coding,” she said. “I think that by having a really neat experience at GEMS with coding, it could even ramp up the interest even more.”

While the program is named GEMS, the MCCSC made sure to indicate the event “welcomes cis girls, trans girls, and any girl-identified youth, as well as non-binary and gender non-conforming youth,” according to the MCCSC website.

Johnson said is it important to create an inclusive environment, especially at an event trying to promote inclusivity in the science field.

“If it is difficult for cis girls to see themselves as successful people in science, I would imagine that trans kids also might have some challenges in terms of being able to feel welcome in any field, specifically in science, engineering and science,” she said.

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