March 7, 2018


Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) is a summer STEM enrichment program for middle and high school students. The program is so great, many of our GEMS alumni come back to the program as mentors, guiding students through modules and helping them solve problems. The program, which takes place in participating army research laboratories across the country, nurtures an interest in STEM for both participating students and their mentors.

Recently, we caught up with two GEMS students-turned-mentors. They told us all about their time with GEMS and explained why they were so excited to be back!


Adriana: My experience as a student in GEMS was incredible. I learned about topics I hadn’t heard of, and met so many intelligent, kind people. I was even able to interact with professional researchers and engineers. As a mentor, I wanted to be able to work more closely with the scientists at the missile range and help support other students as they went along the program.


Cesar: I felt the same way. I liked getting to know the engineers the first time around and felt, returning as a mentor, would help me better get to know their work. When I got the mentorship, I worked alongside the engineers and began asking more in-depth questions about their work. The more I asked the engineers, the more interested I became in mechanical engineering.


Adriana: My favorite experience was as a mentor when we used Lego robotics. It involved a ton of creativity and we got to use basic programming for the Lego cars. Since I’m pursuing a computer science minor in college, this helped me explore what I’m interested in and engage the most with my mentees. They were given a lot of freedom to experiment and be creative, and it was a joy to be able to brainstorm with them, help them as they tested their robots and share in their excitement when something finally worked.


Cesar: That sounds so cool! When I was a student in the GEMS program, we got to check out the room that the engineers use to climate test soldiers’ gear. The room is actually large enough to climate test army planes, and can get extremely hot, cold or windy. It helps the soldiers prepare for battle. It was my favorite experience, because it was so exciting to get to see the engineers’ work put into action. It made me realize how important this work can be.


Adriana: My favorite experience with a mentee was with this one student who was very shy and reserved. She rarely asked questions or made an effort to be overtly involved. At the beginning of the Lego robotics module, she let her partner do most of the programming and experimentation, preferring to stay on the sidelines. However, when her partner was off testing the robot, I worked with her individually on brainstorming ideas to modify the program to help the robot complete the maze successfully. After our brainstorming session, she slowly became more excited to experiment with the robot, and, toward the end of the module, she was taking initiative to try new things, eagerly running up to the maze to test out her robot with her partner.


Cesar: Yeah and sometimes you discover a passion for something you were too nervous to even try. Personally, I think people should participate in GEMS because it’s a great way to explore what you might want to be when you grow up. GEMS can provide experiences and educational opportunities that different from school.


Adriana: I completely agree, but want students to know that you don’t have to be a STEM-pro to participate in the program. GEMS provides a stimulating learning environment for both students with ample STEM experience and those with very little. There’s nothing that requires a strong working knowledge of STEM concepts – but they are still engaging and challenging for those who may have more experience.


Cesar: And that they should come back to be mentors! As a mentor, you have access to even more and you have the opportunity to explore what engineers have done to achieve their goals.


Adriana: Completely. All GEMS alumni should become mentors. Like Cesar said, the experience truly does set you apart. It provides great experiences that you can then talk about in interviews, connects you to people who can write strong recommendations, and it opens the doors to potential internships and perhaps even careers.


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