Nine-year-old Alana Grossman sat on the floor Thursday, staring at the materials placed before her team.
They had 15 minutes to turn 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti, a marshmallow, a yard of string and some masking tape into the tallest free-standing structure possible. Other teams had started building inside the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay ballroom. A few spaghetti strands were already broken. A marshmallow was missing.
Grossman picked up four spaghetti strands and began arranging them. She thought about her recent social studies test on American Indians and her grade. Then suddenly, her eyes lit up with excitement. “I think we should build a tepee,” she said confidently.
Grossman explained to her team how a tepee has a cone-shaped framework, which is based around a tripod of poles that are all tied together at the top. Her structure proved strong enough to win the hands-on workshop, one of 19 at the annual Girls Exploring Math and Science program.
While the challenge was fun and kind of sticky, it wasn’t the most important thing to Grossman. The Holualoa Elementary fifth-grader said she was most interested in learning how she can use different science, technology, engineering and math concepts to get a job.
“It’s important to make your mark,” said Grossman, who wants to be a fashion designer or model. “Being good in math and science will help a lot.”
A project of the American Association of University Women Kona Branch, GEMS is an annual one-day program designed to stimulate interest and bolster the confidence of girls in math and science fields before they enter middle school, which is when studies show many begin to fall behind in such subjects.
“We want to expand these girls’ awareness in the various career opportunities available for them, as well as increase their interest in math and science,” said Cindy Armer, GEMS chairwoman. “We also want them to see, feel and experience the support they have from their community.”
More than 280 fifth-grade girls from the West Hawaii Complex Area explored numerous topics, including marine science, architecture, financial planning, veterinary medicine, chemistry, astronomy, dentistry and culinary science.
New this year was a workshop led by the Kealakehe High School Robotics Team, of which some members were GEMS alumna. Kealakehe High students Kela Hauck, Dana Jennings, Amy Lowe and Amanda Nelson introduced the participants to robotics, which includes more than building and programming.
They said team members interested in graphic design, technical writing, public speaking and marketing are also critical. They also mentioned their travels around the country for various competitions.
Besides making bracelets out of electric wire and doing the marshmallow challenge, workshop attendees got to drive the team’s robots and compete in Sack Attack, a contest to see who could pick up the most sacks and place them in a particular area.
Justin Brown, the school’s robotics coordinator, was proud of his students who created and led the GEMS workshop. What he hoped they took away was simple: “When given the opportunity to learn things, do. But remember there’s always an obligation to give back and a responsibility to help prepare the next generation.”
AAUW Kona Branch’s mission is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. Its members hope GEMS participants feel encouraged to stay involved in math and science classes through their middle school, high school and college years.
Ten-year-old Shannen Rose Arellano has always been told, “Anyone can do anything.”
So, the Kealakehe Elementary fifth-grader said she plans to shoot for the stars and is determined to become a NASA scientist. From an early age, Arellano gravitated toward math and science because those subjects are fun, challenging and cool.
By participating in GEMS, she hoped to find mentors and role models, as well as make friends with others interested in the sciences.
At the “Space Rocks!” exhibit, Arellano used 3-D glasses to study photos of Mercury’s craters, examined meteorites with a magnifying lens and played with kinetic energy balls. She called GEMS inspiring.
“GEMS is such an extraordinary event. It allows young girls to see and learn about the myriad of exciting math and science careers that exist,” said Nancy Tashima, education specialist for the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center.
“The girls should realize there’s no limit to what they can achieve.”