By Tracy Crews
Thanks to a grant from Oregon State University’s Women’s Giving Circle and additional funding from the Oregon Coast STEM Hub,7th and 8th grade girls from coastal communities were able to attend Girls in Engineering and Marine Science (GEMS) at Hatfield Marine Science Center on March 10-11, 2017. This unique Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camp is led by Oregon Sea Grant in partnership with the Oregon Coast Aquarium and is designed to bring together middle school girls from high poverty areas with female engineers and marine scientists who share their experiences and passion for STEM.
Activities for this two-day camp were led by female undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty from Oregon State University (OSU), as well as female marine scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Students developed teamwork, communication, and leadership skills throughout the program through collaborative, hands-on activities, and learned about what it is like to pursue a degree and career in engineering and marine related fields from mentors. In addition, participants got behind-the-scenes tours of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the NOAA research vessel Rainier.
Participants for this GEMS program included middle school girls from Astoria, Warrenton, Tillamook, Newport, Toledo, Waldport, and Coos Bay. Participants had the opportunity to engineer underwater robots and robotic arms, build light traps for sampling larval crabs and fish, and create prototypes of devices which could be used for disaster response. They also worked with NOAA biologists to collect biological samples and data from juvenile salmon, conducted bird surveys in the Yaquina Bay Estuary with an OSU seabird researcher, and identified larval organisms caught in their light traps with the help of an OSU zooplankton biologist. Additionally, GEMS participants spent the night in the shark tunnel at the Oregon Coast Aquarium with female husbandry and education staff where they learned about additional career options.
According to GEMS participants, they really enjoyed the “cool” hands-on activities and the interaction with OSU students and researchers. These students also reported that the program strengthened their interest in STEM and that they gained confidence and additional knowledge by participating in this program.
Tracy Crews works for Oregon Sea Grant as the Marine Education Manager, and she coordinates STEM Experiences for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.