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Keeping Our GEMS in STEM

Keeping Our GEMS in STEM

by Laura Frost, Director, Whitaker Center for STEM Education at FGCU

Meet Cecelia who as a fifth grader loved math and science. When she got to middle school, she started to see that the “smart” girls are not as popular and so she isn’t as interested in Math or Science anymore. How can we keep her interested? We can’t rely on her formal education alone. What if Cecelia sees girls and women that look like her having fun teaching and learning math and science activities that appeal to her interests? Research tell us she is more likely to be inspired and encouraged to continue studying subjects like Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. That’s why we have GEMS: Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science.

Middle school girls like Cecelia come to the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University four times a year on a Saturday, meet our STEM majors, and have fun doing things like building a tetrahedron kite, learning about detergents then making their own shampoo, and dissecting a silkworm cocoon then decorating a silk scarf!

As stated in the STEMConnector’s white paper, Women in STEM: Realizing the Potential, “Role models and mentors play a powerful role in inspiring, encouraging and supporting students and young women at every stage of their STEM education and career.” GEMS activities are developed by FGCU faculty associates through the Whitaker Center for STEM Education. During a Saturday activity the faculty and STEM majors talk to the girls about university life while facilitating the activities.

Who can attend GEMS? Any girl in grades 6-8 can register for GEMS. You must find your own transportation to FGCU, but check with your school science teacher, some schools in Collier county now provide transportation.  Our next two events are September 30 and November 18. Online registration opens about a month before the event at Girls like Cecelia tell us they leave our events more excited about STEM subjects and plan to return for future events. We love that!

The Whitaker Center for STEM Education at Florida Gulf Coast University serves more than just girls, we serve as a point source for our entire community both on and off-campus through our STEM Education initiatives.  For more information about GEMS and other amazing programs like building and racing a solar powered go-kart, figuring out whether bones are animal or human, and discovering inheritance through DNA and molecular diversity,visit, or contact Dr. Laura Frost, Whitaker Center Director at [email protected], 239-590-7444 for more information.

GEMS is funded for 2016-2017 by the Women’s Legacy Foundation of the SW FL Community Foundation and will be funded in 2017-2018 by a Community Action Grant from American Association of University Women.

This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2017 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked our 2017 grantees to send us their stories.  The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers. 

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $111 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit or call 239-274-5900.

Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!