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Annual event inspires passions for science, math in young women

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Chef Patti Kimball serves stir fry to Athena Fonoimoana and Danika Aiello during the Art and Science of Food worksop at GEMS on Tuesday at Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Ilima Napoleon and Tatyahna Kaupu-Embrey look at tiny opae ula during the All About Anchialine Ponds workshop at GEMS on Tuesday at Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona.

KAILUA-KONA — Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel was a flurry of activity Tuesday as hundreds of girls came from throughout West Hawaii to explore possible futures in science for Girls Exploring Math and Science.

“In the workshops, they get to be like a mini veterinarian, a mini dermatologist, a mini archaeologist,” said Cindy Armer, GEMS chairperson. “They’re not learning about it, they’re getting to experience it.”

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It’s an event that has been hosted in West Hawaii since the mid-1990s and offers fifth-graders a chance to explore a whole spectrum of careers in math and science by meeting and interacting with women working in those fields.

“I really think it’s not people just on TV or in movies or in magazines or on social media,” Armer said. “It’s people who are real-life people who are devoting their day.”

The event is put on by the American Association of University Women — Kona branch and offers girls a chance to see the breadth of opportunities that are open to them in science and math.

“I think a lot of them, because of their environment, they don’t see themselves as being engineers,” Armer said. “They don’t have role models necessarily right there in their lives that they see, and they don’t picture themselves furthering themselves and going into some of these careers.”

Among the presenters were several women who discovered a passion for science or deepened their interest when they came to GEMS as fifth-graders.

Kea Clebsch said before she came to GEMS, she thought science was more about plants and animals.

“But it was really cool to see the whole engineering aspect of it, which is something that, now as a freshman, I’d like to go more into,” she said. “I hadn’t really seen that part of science, and now that’s my favorite part about it.”

Now a freshman at Kealakehe High School, Clebsch returned to GEMS on Tuesday as part of a group of students from her school teaching attendees about electronics and how to make circuits.

Girls who spent the day learning and interacting about everything from veterinary medicine to computer programming said they enjoyed having an opportunity to explore facets of science, technology, engineering and math as well as the career paths they could follow in the future.

Lilia Dudoit and Jona Meheula, fifth-graders at Kealakehe Elementary School, both said they had been looking forward to participating in GEMS.

“I thought it would be like a cool opportunity,” Jona said, “thought it’d be fun.”

Lilia said she’d like to be a scientist in the future.

“I want to create a lot of new stuff,” she said.

Lilia said she particularly liked the workshop in which she was able to make “slime,” part of a workshop on polymer chemistry led by Sue Roberts, a retired chemist and member of the American Association of University Women.

“They get to learn both by seeing and hearing, but also kinetically,” Roberts said, “And so I’m trying to get as many ways for the girls to understand how this is working and something they might remember.”

And she, too, said she hopes girls come away from GEMS with a realization that math and science can be fun and interesting, “and that it isn’t just a guy thing.”

She said it’s telling that the number of girls interested in registering for the event has grown dramatically through the years.

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“So there is more interest in coming and doing this,” she said. “And you look at the high school and junior high girls who are presenting, and they came to GEMS as fifth-graders and now they’re continuing in robotics or media or various other technical fields as they go into junior high and high school. And that’s really exciting.”

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.