GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science)

WHAT is GEMS?   GEMS stands for “Girls Excelling in Math and Science”. In 1994, Laura Reasoner Jones launched a science and math club especially for girls, in response to her own daughter’s waning interest and confidence in math and science. This GEMS Club was designed to provide a cooperative forum to spark girls’ passion for science and math and to encourage girls’ natural curiosity and interest in these fields.

WHY do we need GEMS?  Girls are vastly under-represented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, both in college and professionally.  This means that your daughters, granddaughters, nieces and young friends are missing out on exciting, challenging careers with opportunities for high salaries and long-term growth potential. It also means that the world at large is missing out on the dreams and contributions of almost half of the population.

What problems could be solved, discoveries made or diseases cured when more girls and women are working on our world’s challenges? We will never know unless we invite and encourage more girls to explore these enticing fields.

Exposure to a program like GEMS can help to increase interest and confidence in STEM for girls in elementary and middle school and to expose girls to the fun and wonder of these fields.

WHY just GIRLS?  Girls function differently in single gender groups, particularly when it comes to learning and experiencing things that are intimidating or perceived as difficult, such as science or technology.  Many studies show that teachers pay more attention to boys or students who “call out” answers, rather than choosing students equitably. When boys and girls work together, particularly with science and inquiry learning, boys tend to take over the experimental work, leaving the girls to take data or serve as the “recorder” for the group. Many girls tend to hang back in mixed gender groups, thereby losing the opportunity to “do” the science or technology or engineering. They also tend to stop trying when things become difficult, thinking that they just can’t learn it. Presenting STEM as difficult does not challenge many girls; instead it makes these fields daunting and unapproachable.

A “girls only” program provides a risk-free environment where there is no competition other than doing your personal best. Emphasis is on learning and having fun, not being the fastest or loudest. Girls learn that “experiment” means making mistakes, trying again, fixing what didn’t work the first time. All girls get to do all of the activities, and all girls get to experience success.

Our GEMS Program  In the summer of 2015, the AAUW Morton, Il Branch partnered with the Morton Public Library summer reading program to offer a GEMS workshop serving 4th through 6th grade girls. Inspired by the success of our pilot program, the branch applied for and received grants from AAUW-IL and the Morton Community Foundation to purchase 10 microscopes. We offered our first microscope GEMS program in March 2016, in honor of Women’s History Month. During the summer of 2016, we again partnered with the library’s summer reading program, and offered four more summer sessions. Morton AAUW is continuing to offer monthly GEMS programs at the library, and we are partnering with organizations like the Society of Women Engineers and other local professionals to offer exciting workshops for girls taught by talented people in their fields. So far we have offered sessions in math, forensics, biology, ecology, geology, engineering, and technology. We anticipate GEMS moving forward into “STEAM”, which embraces the “Art” aspect of “STEM” fields.

Instead of forming a GEMS “club”, Morton AAUW offers GEMS “programs”; 1 to 2 hour sessions that take place at the library. Girls can register at the Morton Public Library for any sessions that peak their interest without having to make a commitment to a particular time frame. This approach also works well in that we can be flexible with times and dates to accommodate busy professionals donating their time and talents, change the age range of participants depending upon the particular program, and offer multiple sessions of popular programs.

Our GEMS committee always welcomes ideas for programs, professional guest leaders, advertising and supplies. If you have a suggestion, or wish to be a part of the GEMS committee, please contact us.

Heather Thompson


Joan Rice and Linda Young ready to check in the GEMS participants.


Deb Elliot leads a matching game about six women scientists.



One of the six new microscopes, awaiting its “maiden voyage”  with GEMS.


Judy Griffin teaches the GEMS the fundamentals of the microscope and how to make slides.

IMG_3529GEMS using the microscope to examine prepared slides as well as slides they have prepared of onion cells and bacteria in yogurt.
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