Justin Nguyen, a GEMS intern at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research compares a bite mark and teeth impression during the crime scene investigation activity June 20. Photo by Steven Galvan
By Steven Galvan, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
11 JULY 2013
The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) hosted the Army’s Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) camp for 23 middle school students (interns) June17-20 at Joint Base San Antonio—Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Sponsored and funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the USAISR’s parent command, and part of the Army’s Education Outreach Program, GEMS is a laboratory-based camp that provides interns the opportunity to participate in scientific experiments and trains them in basic laboratory skills. The Army developed GEMS to offer summer educational activities for students who have an interest in becoming scientists.
This is the second year that the USAISR has hosted the 4-day GEMS camp since the program began in the early 1990s at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. With the help of five college students (near-peer mentors) and two staff coordinators to guide the young interns, the USAISR will host three camps this summer: June 17-20, June 24-27, and July 8-11.
Maj. Alejandro Gonzales and Stephanie Truss, GEMS program coordinators, have worked together for months to prepare for the three sessions. Two weeks before the first session, they met with near-peer lead mentors Capt. Natalie D. Collins and Kimberly Bristow to select activities that would be instructive and exciting for the interns.
“The program has a multi-disciplinary educational curriculum where the students get to participate in hands-on activities which include blood typing, suturing, and culminates with a crime scene investigation (CSI) lab,” said Gonzales. “It is a great opportunity for middle school students to experience science in a real laboratory setting.”
According to Truss, “one the goals of GEMS camp is to get students interested in science and math programs as their future careers.”
With the assistance of the near-peer instructors, the interns were divided into six groups and each group conducted experiments to learn about electricity, cardiology, blood typing, types of bacteria, DNA, dentistry, and CSI techniques. The small-group structure allows the near-peers to interact one-on-one with the interns to enhance the learning experience.
“The activities are designed to get the students to do some critical thinking,” said Texas State University student and near-peer mentor Vanessa Foster. The radiation therapy major said that she was impressed with the students’ knowledge. “They are all very smart,” she said. “The activities are very challenging, and they all did a good job of accomplishing them. I’ve had a great time being their instructor.”
Jonathan Melton, a University of Texas at San Antonio accounting major and near-peer mentor, said he’s learning just as much as the interns in his group. “As an accounting major, I never knew any of this stuff,” he said. “It’s a better experience than I could have hoped for.”
Eighth grade student and GEMS intern Justin Nguyen said that his favorite school subjects are math and science, but he is unsure of what major he wants to pursue when he gets to college. He is now considering majoring in math or science after enjoying some hands-on activities in the GEMS and encourages other students to experience the camp. “It’s great program,” he said. “A lot of hands-on activities with fantastic instructors. It’s also a great chance to meet new people and learn new things.”
“We don’t do these type activities in school,” said sixth-grade intern Hunter Straiting. “It’s a great camp.”
The plan is for the USAISR to host another GEMS camp (Level I for middle school students) next summer and then host a Level II camp in 2015 for students entering grades 9 through 11.
“In keeping with the goal of the Army Education Outreach Program, we hope to offer the Level II program so that we can invite our GEMS Level I alumni back to the ISR and offer them a more challenging program,” said Gonzales.
“This is yet another way that the ISR gives back to the community,” said Truss. “Hopefully this program promotes the desire for them [interns and near-peer mentors] to seek majors in these fields and seek future employment here or other research areas.”