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The number of girls going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers is rising, but is still lower than women in those fields would like to see.

To help spark interest in STEM occupations, 200 girls in 7th and 8th grade from Gilmore, Starbuck, Jerstad and Mitchell middle schools through Girls, Inc. participated Wednesday in the annual GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math and Science) conference at University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

“We target girls in 7th and 8th grades so they can think about selecting and taking an interest in STEM courses in high school and, hopefully, engage them in a STEM career,” said Jeanette Brown from Girls, Inc.

GEMS is an annual conference that includes almost three dozen hands-on workshops, guest speakers, and parent workshops. The idea is to keep the girls’ educational and family support systems involved so teachers from their schools attend as well.

Some of the sessions the girls attended included:

  • Persnickety Polygon Numbers Club
  • Crime Scene Forensics
  • Make Your Own App
  • Anatomy and Physiology Demos
  • A Chemist made THAT?

Workshops were led by members of the Parkside faculty and leaders from SC Johnson, Emerson Electric, Froedtert Hospital, and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.

Parent sessions focused on supporting their daughters: Fostering Girls Success in STEM & Life; Preparing Girls for College; and Advancing Girls and Women in STEM Majors and Career.

To make sure the girls are getting the most out of the workshops and gauge their interest in studying more science, technology, engineering and/or math, Brown has the students fill out a survey. She said the results indicate the conference is working.

“Through the surveys, we see the girls’ reactions are excitement, enthusiasm and there’s a lot of discussion about what they learned and experienced in the workshops they attended,” she said.

To volunteer for Girls Inc or serve on a committee people can contact Brown at or by calling (262) 989.9693.

The GEMS conference is hosted by Girls, Inc. in partnership with UW-Parkside, SC Johnson, American Association of University Women, and United Way of Racine County.