News: US Army Institute of Surgical Research hosts mathematics, science camp
Story by Steven Galvan
SAN ANTONIO – The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research hosted the Army’s Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science camp for 24 middle school students from June 18 to 21 at Joint-Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
Part of the Army Educational Outreach Program, GEMS is a laboratory-based camp that provides students (interns) the opportunity to participate in scientific experiments and trains them in basic laboratory skills.
GEMS was developed by the Army to offer summer educational activities for middle school students who have an interest in becoming scientists.
This was the first time the USAISR has hosted a 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 to mentor the interns, the institute will host three camps this summer.
Capt. Jessica Slack and Joanna Johnson, GEMS program coordinators, developed the activities they thought would be exciting for middle school students.
“Something that’s more advanced than that they wouldn’t have seen in their own middle schools,” Slack said. “Some of the experiments that they are doing, they may not see until they are in college, or a few of them may touch on in high school.
“What we are trying to do here is to excite middle school students about mathematics, science and engineering,” Slack said. “A lot of these students are not exposed to hands-on scientific experiments. They have not seen a lab, never touched a microscope, so that’s what we’re providing them.”
Eighth-grade student and GEMS intern Kalynn Stigger has her sights set on being a forensic scientist and hopes to work for the Air Force someday. She encourages anyone who is interested in science, technology, engineering, or math to participate in the camp.
“I think this is a great experience,” Stigger said. “It allows us to do things that are hands-on and stuff that you wouldn’t do in other camps or school classes.”
The activities were designed to expose interns to subjects in electricity, cardiology, blood typing, types of bacteria, DNA, surgical knots, dentistry, along with hair, fiber, and fingerprint analysis.
“We catered the experiments to what we do here at the USAISR,” Slack said. “Our goal was to touch upon all facets of science and math.”
“It’s nothing that they should know off the top of their heads,” said Andrew Benavides, a GEMS mentor who is an architect major with a minor in criminal justice at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“They are going to learn something they may or may not already know, and they are going to learn while having fun at the same time,” Benavides added.
The “Where’s the Dirtiest?” activity was designed for the interns to work through the scientific method.
“You start with a hypothesis, make a procedure, gather data, and prove whether the hypothesis is correct based on the data,” Johnson said.
The interns swabbed different objects in the building – bathroom fixtures, door knobs, cell phones, and shoes – and transferred the sample to agar plates where the bacteria could grow overnight.
If bacteria were contained in the sample and grew, the interns were able to count the bacteria the next day. The interns hypothesized as a group that the object that has the most bacteria is indeed the dirtiest. In this activity, an intern’s shoe was the dirtiest.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Stigger said. “I like the experiments that we did and learning new things.”
“It has been very rewarding,” Slack said. “Seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they learn something new is great.”