Girls, Engineering, Math & Science at UW-Waukesha

The Girls, Engineering, Math & Science program at UW-Waukesha is already in its ninth year, but the program continues to reach capacity time and time again. Holly Wehrhahn, Southeast Director of Continuing Education for UW Colleges, has seen the program grow from its small initial iteration to today, where space is at a premium.

“The girls loves our GEMS program and we have people that begin calling months and months and months in advance,” says Wehrhahn. “We have many girls that attend year after year until we have to tell them ‘No, you’re too old now!’.”

That growth is not an accident, and speaks to the impact GEMS has had on the cohort of young girls that have attended the program multiple times already. The coordinators hope to expand girls’ career horizons, primarily by promoting outside-the-box thinking in an environment with like-minded students.

“Getting girls engaged in events like STEM start to open up their minds to other fields that maybe they weren’t aware of,” says Nikole McMyler, a four-year volunteer with the GEMS program. “We’re opening their minds to see things that otherwise they may not have realized.” Reinforcing to middle school girls that they can aspire to be whatever they want is one of the main lessons GEMS hopes to impart on its participants.

Elizabeth Hensiak, former GEMS coordinator for UW-Waukesha agrees, “One of the main goals is just to let middle school girls know that, ‘hey you guys can follow your passion if it’s a career in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics’ even though that’s something that years ago was just for boys or men.”

Of course, the program wouldn’t be as successful as it is without the girls finding it beneficial and enjoyable. Every year though, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. “I think that GEMS is important because I know that there aren’t a lot of female engineers and people in the science industry so it’s good to get girls interested in science from a fairly young age,” said one participant.

Another participant took GEMS importance to an even further level, “I think GEMS is important because it teaches girls that they can pretty much do anything”. If even one girl walks away with that sentiment of unlimited possibilities, GEMS has more than accomplished its goal.