New Club Aims To Nurture Math, Science In Girls

By Renata Birkenbuel
The Montana Standard, Butte.

Creating a homemade, overflowing, bubbling Lava Lamp in a cup sounds like great fun in or out of school.

That’s the kind of hands-on scientific experiments the newly formed GEMS club uses to build confidence in girls in grades 5 through 8.

Girls Excelling in Math and Science is a free club outside of school meant to draw in girls from that vulnerable age group when they are most impressionable.

“It’s something constructive for girls to do,” said Pam Haxby-Cote, a co-founder with Ronda Coguill. “We want to develop young women, and it evolved into a math and science emphasis. That demographic is pivotal.”

The first session kicks off Oct. 22 and runs every Wednesday until Nov. 19. At least two more sessions follow after the first of the year, then a Summer GEMS Camp is planned for 2015.

Organizers then hope to do it all over again, depending on interest.

Coguill, Montana GEMS director and a senior scientist materials specialist with CAMP — the Center for Advance Mineral and Metallurgical Processing — at Montana Tech, said the structure of GEMS revolves around mentoring and building girls’ confidence in math and science.

But it’s different than going to school, which is required. The club is voluntary — and free with transportation available. There’s no homework, and parents are encouraged to join in.

“We want to make it fun, easy and exciting, not intimidating,” said Coguill, who’s drawing upon Tech student mentors, guest scientists and community members willing to share their expertise. “We will do four-to-six experiments each week to expose the girls to the scientific method. We always want them to succeed.”

Studies show that girls in that age group tend to hold back or not assert themselves in math or science classes at school when boys are encouraged to be vocal and assertive.

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