December 20, 2022

Before joining GEMS, Ethan Zhou had been actively looking for hands-on STEM programs, but it wasn’t until his mom stumbled upon the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) program that they were both convinced this is how he should spend his summer.

In 2020, Ethan’s parents signed him up for GEMS. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethan attended the program virtually. However, despite it being virtual, he still participated in all the different planned activities, including hands-on STEM projects and labs at home. 

Ethan, a current sophomore at the Bromfield School in Harvard, Mass., started his AEOP journey when he enrolled to participate in GEMS. During the weeks he attended the program, he had the opportunity to gain new skills and open the gateway into the world of STEM.

“The pandemic put a dent in our summer plans, however, I have no regrets about my online experience with GEMS,” said Zhou. “The program sent me a box filled with materials and resources and every day we had a different activity planned that would challenge us and teach us new skills. It was a fun, engaging, interactive and educational experience that was made even better by the great mentors who supported us.” 

Zhou recalls two specific projects he found to be not only fun, but also intriguing when thinking about them from a STEM perspective. He learned how to make smores with his homemade sun-baking oven, which simply entailed a box covered in tin foil and the power of the sun. And, he also built a rubber airplane using only a balloon and a twisting mechanism that would enable it to fly really fast. Even his parents would venture into the backyard to see Ethan successfully tackle every activity and celebrate his hard work and end results.

 Since attending GEMS, Ethan’s interest in STEM has only grown stronger. Recently, he and his team participated in this year’s Fall Data Challenge, hosted by the American Statistical Association, where they received an Honorable Mention for their research project on equity in education through increased parent and family engagement. They were one of three high-school winners. Ethan hopes to continue pursuing his passion by participating in other STEM programs, showcasing his research projects and becoming more involved in AEOP. 

In the upcoming months, Ethan will be attending the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair, for his third year in a row, alongside his team members to present their climate change prediction simulator. They hope to instill a sense of urgency in their community about the challenges we currently face and encourage others to tackle this crisis through scientific research. 

“For those unsure about STEM, GEMS is a great place to start,” said Zhou. “I enjoyed my time in the program and appreciated the effort in planning each activity and the support from my mentors. I was not only able to learn about STEM through fun and engaging activities and projects, but I was also able to meet other kids my age who shared my passion and connect with experts in their field who provided valuable insights. For me, GEMS kick-started my experience with STEM. It broadened my interests, helped me develop my passion and allowed me to become the student that I am today.”  

After graduation, Ethan is thinking about pursuing a career in Computer Science and using STEM to help his community. Through research-driven solutions, he hopes to address the many difficulties our society currently faces and lead the charge for a better tomorrow. 

GEMS is a U.S. Army-sponsored, summer STEM enrichment program for elementary, middle and high school students that takes place in participating U.S. Army research laboratories and engineering centers. To learn more about AEOP’s GEMS, click here.

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