Augsburg News

News Archives - 2003

Exploring Mars on the Augsburg campus

June 2003

Students in the GEMS/GISE program working with huge sheets of styrafoam, trying to create the surface of Mars. For 10 weeks over the summer, several of Augsburg's physics labs on the lower level of Science Hall became a staging area for a large-scale model of the Mars surface, with robot explorers and a simulated model of the space shuttle.

It's part of the Girls in Engineering, Mathematics, and Science (GEMS) program, providing middle and high school girls and college undergraduates an opportunity to explore mathematics, science, and applied technology.

Because boys as young as fourth grade begin to show greater interest and higher achievement in math and science than girls, GEMS addresses an acute need to create programs that encourage girls to explore, experiment, and collaborate in these fields.

Jeanine Gregoire, assistant professor of education and science coordinator at Augsburg, and founder of the program, said she is concerned with gender equity in science education. "Research in gender-based programs and our own experiences with the GEMS program throughout the past six years have shown how important it is for girls to have access to challenging, complex, and fun science, math, and technology projects set in a supportive environment."

Gregoire, in conjunction with the Augsburg NASA Space Grant Program, has worked closely with Brad Blue, Minneapolis Public Schools science/math teacher, and parents and teachers from 13 Minneapolis schools to develop, implement, and evaluate this program.

The GEMS program includes three age groups:

Fourth-eighth grade component

The year-round GEMS program presents young women with complex problem-solving projects and opportunities to present in public. Annually, the girls build and program robots to compete in a robotics competition. One of the GEMS teams was featured on the premiere episode of DragonFly TV.

Students also participate in an intensive, 10-week summer program at Augsburg focusing on leadership development, robotics, contextual mathematics, monarch butterflies and biodiversity, and digital video editing. During the summer of 2001, 120 middle school girls from the Minneapolis Public Schools district came to Augsburg twice a week to learn about monarch butterfly research, develop robots, and program them to do various tasks and create I-movies. Other GEMS projects investigate the Science of Speed, where they design, build, test, and race CO2 cars in the Annual Day at the Races at Augsburg.

GEMS groups regularly present the results of their projects at the Science Museum of Minnesota, LEGOLand at the Mall of America, the Minnesota State Fair, the Minneapolis School Board, the Eye to the Future Career Conference for Young Women, and to engineers and technicians at Medtronic. These venues provide students with opportunities to consolidate their understanding of what they are learning, become more comfortable communicating their findings to others, apply skills they have learned in their project, and receive feedback from participants.

Gregoire said that they have already seen many of these students do well on the advanced placement tests for ninth-grade science, and they tend to take more math and science courses in high school.

"The GEMS program has also given many girls a strong network of friends who encourage school attendance, value and support each other's academic achievement, and who demonstrate leadership in other areas of school. The GEMS program gives each girl a different way to see herself in the world."

The program is free to girls in the Minneapolis Public Schools who apply and qualify.

Ninth-12th grade mentoring program

Girls who have participated in the GEMS fourth-eighth grade program are eligible to apply for the summer leadership program. Successful completion of the summer program allows new mentors to participate in a year-long position as a GEMS mentor. The GEMS mentor program builds upon the maturity, leadership development, interests, and academic needs of the GEMS mentors involved in the program. Incoming mentors, the girls in grades 8-12, are involved in a beta level leadership training to develop interpersonal communication and group building skills. They then have the opportunity to lead larger GEMS enrichment programs.

"We have seen many of these young women develop tremendous leadership capacity working with the middle school students as a ‘coach' and in one case the program coordinator of a GEMS program," said Gregorie.

Last summer 15 GEMS mentors participated in the GEMS leadership training program. In 2001, a high school mentor was chosen as "Mentor of the Year" from among all adult mentor/coaches in Minnesota for the first Lego-Logo competition.

"Middle school GEMS look up to the high school GEMS for direction, support, and friendship," Gregoire said. "I love to see the strong bond established between the high school mentors and the middle school GEMS during the summer program."

Undergraduates as teachers

Augsburg students have also benefited from this program. Undergraduate women in science, mathematics, engineering, and elementary or secondary education are recruited to serve as teachers for the summer GEMS middle-school program and as co-facilitators during the regular school year. GEMS mentors and the undergraduate students work as a team to plan and teach units to GEMS middle school students.

"Such opportunities give Augsburg students valuable teaching experience and build their own confidence and knowledge of mathematics, science, and technology," Gregoire said. She added that as a result of the program, several elementary majors have refocused their concentration in science and several other math majors are now in secondary licensure programs.

Gregoire said that Augsburg, as a college of the city, has gained tremendously as a community partner with Minneapolis Public Schools.

"With the challenge in urban education, the College could be either part of the problem, or we can be part of the solution by leveraging our resources, knowledge, and experiences to create viable solutions. The GEMS program is but one program where the College and the NASA Space Grant have taken an active role in working with urban school districts on special programs and projects. GEMS has been a tremendous program for the Minneapolis Public Schools and Augsburg College."

Funding for the GEMS programs comes from the Medtronic STAR grants, Minneapolis Public Schools, and the NASA Space Grant. The GEMS program was presented at the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in San Francisco in February 2001. In August it was featured on WCCO-TV.