GEMS Event Draws Big Interest from Students, Professionals

Huntley High School’s first Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science (GEMS) event in January attracted 67 participants in grades 6-8 from Heineman and Marlowe Middle Schools.

The event, which was organized by Huntley High School teachers Amanda Henk and Michelle Zietlow, aimed to expose young girls to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields to help close the gender gap in related professions in the future.

“Girls need to be exposed to more STEM activities at a young age. Many times girls think of engineering and other STEM fields as ‘guy fields’ and don’t recognize how these fields can benefit so many areas of society,” said Zietlow, a former software¬†engineer who teaches computer science at HHS.

Participants took part in eight different activities, including bike path design, bridge building/testing, a water purification activity, two different coding activities, and presentations on noise reduction and manufacturing.

A number of professional engineers shared their experiences and insights with the participants.

“They enjoyed meeting the engineers and taking part in the activities,” said Henk, who started teaching in HHS’s Engineering Academy after beginning her career as an accelerator operator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. “We saw many of them at the 8th grade course selection night and they were enthusiastically¬†signing up for our engineering and computer science courses.”

Organizers were inspired to host the event through their involvement in the McHenry County College STEM Alliance Team, which brings together representatives from several surrounding districts to encourage STEM curriculum in schools. District 155 has hosted similar events in the past at Prairie Ridge High School, and the teachers wanted to offer the experience to Huntley 158 students.

Participants said they appreciated the opportunity to interact with professional engineers, get exposure to several different fields, and meet other students with similar interests as they are preparing to enter high school.

“I loved being able to do hands-on activities and being able to be with friends,” said one participant.

“I really enjoyed learning about different kinds of engineers and all the different things they do the help the world,” another said.

Based on overwhelmingly positive feedback from students and parents, organizers said they are already planning to host another GEMS event in 2018. They hope to offer a greater number and variety of events next year, including presenters from different professional fields and involvement from the HHS Math, Science Olympiad, and Robotics teams.

“By introducing them to some activities at an early age, we hope to inspire them to continue exploring STEM fields,” Zietlow said.

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