Diamonds In The Rough: Girls’ Math Club Cultivates Young Minds

By Renata Birkenbuel
The Montana Standard, Butte

Pack a few dozen girls and women in a science lab and the possibilities for invention are endless.

A new all-girls after-school science club, Girls Excelling in Math and Science, is a big draw because members conduct experiments, study famous women scientists and relax as they learn the periodic table.

Between 17 and 21 kids have shown up at any one time, packing the classroom.

Open to all girls in grades 5 through 8, GEMS instructors guide the kids in making electronic magnets, devising home-made hovercrafts, programming 3D printer boxes and giving a one-minute elevator speech describing themselves.

“I think it’s a fun way for the girls in town to connect with one another,” said Ella Prigge, 11, a Whittier sixth grader.

“We can learn new experiments that we can do at home,” added Haley Johnson, 12, a Margaret Leary sixth grader.

Ronda Coguill, director and club co-founder, teaches the scientific method: the power of observation and recording those observations in a notebook — standard process of a working scientist.

“We teach scientific terminology and the observation method versus the perception method,” said Coguill. “For some experiments, they will actually gather data.”

Coguill is a senior scientist materials specialist with CAMP — the Center for Advanced Mineral and Metallurgical Processing at Montana Tech, where the club meets weekly in the basement of the Engineering Lab Classroom.

The college donates the space and Coguill donates her expertise, as does co-found Pam Haxby-Cote of Blackstone Launch Pad and Headwaters RC&D.

“Having the infrastructure and expertise at our fingertips is pivotal to the success we are having,” said Coguill. “I have done a lot of teaching activities with kids of all ages. Hosting them on a campus is by far the most complete way to provide the entire gamut of information and activities needed to fulfill these sorts of endeavors.”

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