GEMS Summer Program Supports Girls’ Interest in and Entry to STEM Fields

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Educators at the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Engineering Research Center (ERC) have established the Girls EMpowerment STEM (GEMS) Summer Program at Rice University in Houston. GEMS is designed to promote diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math fields by helping middle and high school girls develop professional interest within STEM fields.


STEM fields remain predominantly male in the United States. The most recent Science and Engineering Indicators report (2022) found that women represented about 34% of all STEM workers in 2019. Moreover, women comprised about 44% of STEM workers with at least a bachelor's degree, which is only a slight rise from 42% in 2010. Some studies suggest that stereotypes and educational differences continue to contribute to these figures. Such differences start as early as the third grade, making it critical to begin interventions with girls at earlier stages of their education. The goal of the GEMS program at NEWT is to ensure that all girls receive a better understanding of the different STEM career paths available and to inspire in them a clearer idea of what paths might be the best fit for their passions and values.


NEWT Ph.D. Student Durnian Parulski-Seager founded the GEMS program because of the influence of her own mentor, Dr. Scott Williams, on her educational trajectory. She says, “I would not have grown as much as I have without his support and guidance. I want to provide that same type of support and guidance to other students as they set out to achieve their goals.”

The GEMS program provides girls from middle and high school age an opportunity to meet one Friday a month during the summer to learn more about careers in STEM. Each session starts with breakfast with mentors, includes both professional and diversity and inclusion training, and provides exposure to guest faculty speakers who offer insights about NEWT and other science engineering paths. GEM sessions equip girls with tools they can use throughout their career paths. Overall, Parulski-Seager’s program design is intended to provide a supportive space and a community of people with shared interests who may experience similar struggles in reaching their academic goals.

During the Summer of 2022, participating GEMS girls were introduced to STEM labs at the Rice University campus via tours including a civil and environmental engineering laboratory, the NEWT testbed showing various clean water purification technologies, a trip to the NEST360 medical lab focused on infant mortality in Africa, and a visit to Rice Fondren Library. Other activities included a lunch and an ice cream social with NEWT graduate students currently working as university researchers. Graduate student mentors included Sara Denison, Shababa Matin, and Cianna Leschied; Christina Alston supported the program development. Testimonials from participating students can be viewed online at: