UK, Girl Scouts partner for STEM program

A partnership between the University of Kentucky and the Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council to make STEM fields more accessible for girls is now open to all girls, whether or not they are scouts.

According to program coordinator Vicki Cooper, the partnership began in 2005 when the school was discussing ways to improve female enrollment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Cooper volunteered to take a class in New York that trained GEMS leaders so she could bring the program to Kentucky.

GEMS is a one-day program Nov. 11 that offers girls an opportunity for hands-on learning about STEM fields, an element Cooper said is sadly missing from the education many young women receive.

“Girls can sit and be taught all week long,” Cooper said. “All of our instructors do hand-on instruction for GEMS.”

Participants will work with a chemical engineer to develop their own lip gloss, they will design and construct a tower that will allow an egg to drop two stories and land on the ground without breaking and they will design and program robots to navigate a course during a Lego workshop.

Along the way, they learn about careers in science, the scientific method and how closely math and science are connected.

The program serves as a way to showcase career options many girls may not realize are available to them, Cooper said. It’s a struggle that’s near and dear to her, as she was raised in a household that told her girls don’t need to go to college.

“Some girls in Eastern Kentucky might be getting the same message,” Cooper said. “Some families don’t want girls to leave their family circle behind.”

The issue may not be isolated to just one region either. According to the UK’s College of Engineering website, women make up only 14 percent of the workforce in science and technology careers despite making up 52 percent of the overall workforce.

Haleigh McGraw, a spokesperson with the Wilderness Trail Council, said the program has been a success for both the partner organizations.

“In the past we’ve had to cap the program at 350 to 400 girls,” McGraw said.

In addition, because the program has been going on for 14 years, many of the girls who first took part in GEMS as students have returned to volunteer as instructors after deciding to pursue a career in STEM fields.

She said the program fits perfectly in with one of the four pillars of the girl scouts, which encourages development of STEM skills.

GEMS will also offer parent workshops this year to assist those raising a daughter who is seeking a STEM career.

Since this year the program has opened to girls who aren’t in girl scouts as well, the partners have reserved the day at the Singletary Center in Lexington in order to accommodate what they expect will be an expanded crowd.

Registration for GEMS is $15 for non-girl scouts, $10 for girl scouts, $5 for registered adults and $10 for unregistered adults. The deadline for registration is Oct. 20.