The Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) hosts GEMS camp

Published June 23, 2022
A student and an ERDC team member participate in CERL's GEMS Camp. The student wears a lab coat, mask, and safety glasses.

A student and an ERDC team member participate in CERL's GEMS Camp.

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) recently held a Gains in Education in Mathematics & Science (GEMS) camp. The program is part of the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), which exposes young people to career paths in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and which offers many options ranging from middle school to graduate studies. Traditionally, CERL hosts a middle school and a high school GEMS camp each summer.

This year, students participated in a forensic science week and worked to unravel the Murder Mystery of Lyle & Louise, with CERL researchers helping to uncover evidence to crack the case. The students used many different STEM disciplines to gather evidence — including entomology, by looking at fly life cycles and samples collected to determine time of death; blood-spatter analyses; bullet striation; chromatography of inks; fingerprint analyses and much more. The Champaign Police Department also came out to talk to the students and do some demonstrations.

“I think one of the best parts is that the students get to see some really cool careers they might not have even known existed,” said Brooke Divan, CERL physical scientist. “The entire AEOP program is driving young people to get involved with STEM and to seek careers in those fields.”

The CERL GEMS camp also allowed some local students to assist laboratory researchers as near peers, or young student workers, to help with the camps. The near peer is employed for two weeks and is responsible for camp preparations the week before and execution of activities during camp week.

“The near peers are instrumental in the success of GEMS” said Divan. “They start the week prior to the camp where they spend their time preparing materials and trying out the activities. Their input is critically important because they are much more in touch with the views our students will have and how they will interpret activities. Additionally, during the execution of the GEMS program, they assist the students to work through the modules and bring a young energy to the program.”

Other student opportunities within the laboratory include the Student Engineering Apprentice Program, which enables high school students to do an eight-week internship shadowing a research professional; the College Qualified Leaders program provides college students the opportunity to work in the laboratory. In addition, there is the Department of Defense (DOD) Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship, which provides full tuition, annual stipends, internships and guaranteed employment as participants must fulfill the same number of years of employment as the number of school years they received the scholarship.

“Getting students involved with STEM early in their education is critically important to excite young people to engage in these challenging, yet rewarding, fields,” Divan said. “Through GEMS, we expose students to many STEM careers and immerse them in a laboratory setting. Many of our students are from small rural areas or they are homeschooled, which means they do not have access to many of the expensive instruments we use during the camp. Additionally, we want to get students excited about careers they may not have even considered or knew existed prior to coming to CERL for GEMS.”