Sagamore Hills STEM Gems Club Fosters Tomorrow’s Leading Scientists

Each Monday at Sagamore Hills Elementary, more than 20 fifth grade students spend their lunch time discussing future career options. Some wish to be mechanical engineers. Others want to be nuclear physicists. Some are considering architecture, while others are evaluating forensic science.

All, however, are members of the Sagamore Hills STEM Gem Club.

The Sagamore Hills STEM Gem Club is a group of female fifth graders who meet once a week to discuss accomplished women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The club is named after the book STEM Gems by Stephanie Espy, which profiles 44 female STEM industry leaders.

Sagamore Hills STEM Gems Club Fosters Tomorrow’s Leading ScientistsAccording to STEM teacher and club sponsor Stephanie Spencer, the STEM Gems Club was started in October 2017 after an inspiring presentation by Espy at the annual Georgia STEM Forum. Espy is also a Southwest DeKalb High alum.

“[Espy] was very motivational. She had a great message for girls,” said Spencer. “I firmly agree that students need to be exposed to a large variety of possible STEM careers in their early years. I want to instill in them that they can do these fields even though it might be hard. As she says, ‘You can’t be, what you can’t see!’”

Club co-sponsor and fifth grade teacher Kristin Moehlich said the club has been a positive experience for fifth grade girls at Sagamore Hills.

“Not only have they learned about women in STEM fields, but they have met the author to hear her story in person,” Moehlich said. “I absolutely love helping Ms. Spencer get this club off the ground at school and to hopefully spark some of the girls to follow their dreams of any career they choose as they get older.”

Spencer said the group has discussed women in the fields of animation technology, biotechnology, product design, mechanical engineering, architecture, global health, etymology, microbiology and more. They also discuss strategies to get into such careers: internships, finding mentors, seeking help, asking questions and working hard.

“These are careers that they may have never heard of—some I’ve never heard of,” Spencer said. “We discuss their careers, how they got to their careers, what stumbling blocks they had, and what they had to do to get where they are. Most of them have a larger message to share.”

Students in the STEM Gems Club said they have already been inspired to seek STEM-related career fields.

“Fifty percent of people in here are choosing careers related to STEM,” said one student.

“I choose forensic science! I choose photographer! I choose microbiologist! I choose mechanical engineer!” the group shouted together.

In February, Spencer and students discussed forensic scientist Karen Olson. In addition to sharing details of her career—DNA analysis, digital evidence, drug chemistry, firearm and tool marks, fingerprints, trace evidence—Olson also shared advice on conquering her fears.

For example, Olson had a fear of presenting projects in later in her academic career. Through practice and proper mentorship, however, she was voted best speaker in her class.

Sagamore Hills STEM Gems Club Fosters Tomorrow’s Leading ScientistsStudents in STEM Gems Club were then asked about fears they have and what they can do to conquer them. The club members’ answers ranged from ice skating and cooking to taking chances and trying out for America’s Got Talent.

“No guts, no glory,” said one student. “If you’re afraid to do something, but you really want to do it—just do it anyway!”

Spencer said she hopes the STEM Gems Club empowers its members and instills in them that they can accomplish anything they put their mind to.

“I hope it empowers them to ask question and instills in them a work ethic,” Spencer said. “I think it’s giving them that voice to seek out answers and stand up for themselves. They’re standing up to ask questions, get help when they need it, and not be embarrassed. It challenges them to go further and go beyond the normal assignment to make it better. A lot of these women struggled to get where they are, but they worked hard. They’re mentors, but people mentored them.”

Students are already becoming experts on how to break into STEM career fields. The club seems to know that a healthy blend of knowledge and grit can take them anywhere they desire to go in life.

“You have to have good work ethic, you have to know your chemicals and you have to be competitive,” one student said.