In an effort to encourage more Idaho girls to reach for the stars, the Discovery Center of Idaho, through its so called GEMSET program, is enabling female students to explore the sciences. Currently GEMSET, or Girls Exploring Math, Science, Engineering and Technology, is an invitation-only club that currently meets on Saturdays, once a month, at the Boise-based DCI.
“There’s a real need for more women in the science professions,” said Ann Church, DCI education administrator, “and since our normal boy-to-girl ratio in Science Saturday classes is about 4:1, the GEMSET club is an effort to correct that.”
The club plays host to a number of guest speakers, all with careers in the sciences.
“We are trying for guest speakers with two XX chromosomes,” said Church, “but we are certainly open to men who have expertise in their fields, too.”
GEMSET facilitator Shelley Best, who also instructs many of the popular DCI Science Saturday classes, said the stereotype of boys inadvertently dominating mixed-gender classes often proves true.
“I’ve had many of the GEMSET girls before, in my mixed gender classes,” said Best. “But once I had them in an all-girl environment, their little personalities really started coming out. They started speaking up more, asking more questions—it’s almost like they became totally different little girls.”
According to a 2010 study commissioned by the National Science Foundation, Best’s experience in the classroom is hardly unique, as research confirms that negative stereotypes can indeed negatively impact a girls’ performance in math and science. And while the gender gap has begun narrowing in recent decades, the need for programs such as GEMSET continues.
“We are currently looking for more community partners, in order to expand the program and place a greater emphasis on at-risk and underprivileged girls,” said Best. “As far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit.”