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GEMS intern Khalil Sample views into a microscope to see if any bacteria grew from a surface that was swabbed the day before. Photo by Steven Galvan

GEMS intern Khalil Sample views into a microscope to see if any bacteria grew from a surface that was swabbed the day before. Photo by Steven Galvan

GEMS camp makes learning math, science fun

By Steven Galvan, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
2 JULY 2014

Developing our country’s future mathematicians and scientists begins in school classrooms. But, the Army is doing its part in exposing young students to real-world military research with hands-on activities designed to show them the joy of scientific discovery.

For the third year, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (ISR) is hosting three Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) camps during June and July for San Antonio middle school students at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The four-day sessions are laboratory-based camps that provide students the opportunity to participate in scientific experiments and learn basic laboratory skills.

ISR GEMS program coordinators, Stephanie Truss and Kathy Ryan, Ph.D., planned the laboratory activities that they thought would be engaging and exciting for the students, also known as interns.

“We have the luxury of designing the activities to actual research being conducted here,” said Truss. “Most of the students do not have this type of hands-on activities, or if they do, the activities are not as extensive in their schools, so it’s good for them.”

Activities at the ISR expose interns to subjects such as electricity; cardiology; blood typing; types of bacteria; DNA; surgical knots and suturing techniques; dentistry; and hair, fiber, and fingerprint analysis. The interns make it through the camp with the help of two resource teachers who are full-time licensed teachers and four college students, or near-peers, to mentor the young interns.

“We present what they know and have learned in school and show them how they can use it in the future as researchers in military labs like this one,” said Leigh Anne McIver, ISR GEMS resource teacher. Ashlyn Rathburn, a Texas State University elementary education major, is a near-peer who said that it is important for students at this age to be exposed to these types of activities.

“It is a great experience for all of us,” she said. “We learn from each other.”

GEMS interns Khalil Sample and Natalie McVay both said that the camp was fun and would recommend it to their friends.

“We don’t get to do this in our school,” said Sample.

Each camp is designed for 24 interns divided into two laboratory classrooms. The small groups allow for a lot of one-on-one interaction between the staff and students. Resource teacher Maria Anzaldua enjoys the small classroom atmosphere because it gives her the opportunity to keep the students engaged in their activities.

“If we don’t, then it’s easy for them to lose interest,” she said.

In addition to the hands-on activities, the interns hear from ISR researchers about potential career paths in science, as well as their current research projects. McIver added that this one-of-a-kind experience will be invaluable for the interns’ future.

“They get to see what research is being conducted here and may someday say that they knew about it before it became known to the public,” said McIver. GEMS is one of several programs developed by the Army Educational Outreach Program to offer summer educational activities for middle and high school students who have an interest in becoming scientists and might have an interest in working for the Army or Department of Defense. The GEMS summer camps are offered at various Army laboratory facilities throughout the U.S.