The last several years have seen a growing emphasis on STEM education – courses in science, technology, engineering and math. And while educators have done their part to increase exposure and engagement in those fields, for the last two years, teachers in Cobb County have had a summer partner in that project: the public library system.
In 2014, the library launched Girls in Engineering Math and Science with the two-fold purpose of keeping students’ interest in those fields high over the slow summer months, while at the same time encouraging more girls to get involved. With financial support from the Cobb Library Foundation, the program launched with 40 girls from ages 12 to 18 who met once a week for eight weeks at the main branch in downtown Marietta. During those sessions, girls were introduced to a variety of guest speakers, all women active in various STEM fields. Along with learning about the practical applications of the coursework, girls had the chance to work on a variety of hands-on projects that put their skills into action.
“They were coding and working on all sorts of gadgets and robots,” said librarian Shannon Tyner, who coordinates the program.
The first year’s success inspired Tyner to expand the program. Last year, the timeline was compressed into four weeks with sessions held at four library branches. Attendance doubled, and many of the guest speakers returned.
This year, the offerings are expanding once again. Beginning June 6 through the end of the month, GEMS will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at five library locations.
“We really wanted to open it up to reach more girls who might not have been able to get to downtown Marietta,” said Tyner. “Last year, we hosted 20 girls at four locations, but this year, we can have 25 in five.”
Along with a variety of activities, girls will have the chance to work on projects with the library’s 3D printers. “We started with that last year, and it was great for them to see our printers in action and to learn how to design, create and print an object,” said Tyner.
Much of the program’s success has come from the fact it’s free and open to girls from Cobb County and beyond.
“They don’t need a library card and don’t even have to live in Cobb to participate,” said Tyner.
GEMS also serves as a way to create new purpose for the library, said Betty Ann Cook, president of the Cobb Library Foundation and executive director for Community Outreach and Engagement at Chattahoochee Technical College.
“A library used to be a repository for documents and resources, but it’s moved into a virtual, technology-driven world,” she said. “It has taken on new missions, even while it’s still about providing resources and accesses. It also looks at the challenges of respective communities and responds to them. There is a dearth of women in STEM programs, and historically, many girls have had negative stereotypes it. We looked at how we could get girls into an inquisitive environment and build their confidence; this program meets those requirements as girls are exposed to problem solving, innovation and analytical skills that employ science, math and technology. And it’s all in a safe environment with others similar to themselves.”