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GEM summer schools

PRENDE TU STEM

By December 2021November 18th, 2022No Comments

Organized by Universidad de Jaén in Spain

Summer School 2022

Entrepreneurship workshops. Source: Organizing team of the GEM 2022 summer camp.

Background

The GEM 2022 summer camp, held last July at the campus of the University of Jaén, offered girls in the region the possibility to meet brilliant female in science research and STEM-related businesses, that acted as mentors and role models to support them in developing their scientific identity and entrepreneurial skills away from possible stereotypes. In particular, the participant girls were involved in research projects guided by outstanding scientific female leaders from UJA and participated in several workshops to boost their creativity, personal initiative and digital and communication skills led by entrepreneurial women. The wide range of STEM research topics offered focused on how to address several societal challenges related to health, climate change and the digital world, with a special emphasis on the use of computational tools and ICT to address those challenges. For instance, girls got involved in projects related to the analysis of big data or the use of artificial intelligence and robots to improve people’s lives. The knowledge about how to manage big data is particularly important in a society that makes a frequent and extensive use of social media. Thus, social media is a key source of massive data that can be analysed to prevent harmful behaviors.

During the workshops, girls learned about inspiring entrepreneurial stories from the women who lived them and participated in dynamics to work on their own entrepreneurial mindset, which is especially important due to the scarcity of women in leadership positions in all working fields. As a result, this summer camp assembled a community of GEM girls and GEM scientists and entrepreneurial women who worked together as a community sharing values and relevant projects. In the final congress at the end of the campus, the participant girls presented the experience lived during the week and some of their ideas about entrepreneurship, highlighting their communication skills, which are essential to become a great leader in the future.

The participating girls during immersion time doing research with mentors. Source: Mentors and organizing team of the GEM 2022 summer camp.

The Programme

The 2022 edition of the Spanish GEM scientific summer camp took place in the venues of the University of Jaén from the 11th to the 15th of July. Around 60 girls participated in this summer camp coming from all around the province of Jaén but also from further locations such as Sevilla or Córdoba.

The common thread of all the activities planned for this GEM Summer Camp was the connection between the girls and different female role models in the fields of STEM research and STEM business. These female role models are essential for girls to build their scientific identity and were represented during the camp by excellent mentors, leaders of cutting-edge research groups, inspiring and motivating lectures and speakers, as well as females in leading positions and founders of innovative businesses with strong entrepreneurial skills. Therefore, girls learned about the world of work and the diverse and multiple professional opportunities that STEM encompasses. All these women along with the girls became part of the GEM community in which the STEM identity was associated within an inclusive environment and a positive learning experience. More information about the Spanish GEM summer camp can be found at https://gem-esp.eu/.

Each day of the GEM week the participating girls had the opportunity to get involve in a real research experience guided by female mentors of the University of Jaén during the last half of the morning. The participating girls worked during the whole week in small groups acting as a real scientists and carrying out their own investigations relevant issues for society (Figure 3). In the following, we include a short overview of the STEM research projects conducted by girls with the corresponding UJA scientist mentors responsible for any of them:

  • Talking with robots I and II (Mª Teresa Martín Valdivia, Alba María Mármol Romero, Mª Dolores Molina González and Ana Belén Parras Portillo): The girls used and applied the Human Language Technologies (TLH) by programming a robot, a very relevant area within artificial intelligence, whose main objective is to make computers able to understand and generate language just as we humans do. Some examples related to the application of TLH include its use in early warning systems to track inappropriate behavior on social networks such as detection of hate speech and offensive language, cyberbullying, detection of certain eating disorders and even mental health problems.
  • Histological study of the cellular response to cerebral ischemia (Raquel Hernández Cobo): The main goal of this project was to determine the variation in number and morphology of neurons and astrocytes using an experimental model of ischemia/hypoxia, through the use of optical microscopy.
  • What do wetlands hide? Finding out cryptic biodiversity through digital images (Gema Parra Anguita): In this project, the participating girls worked with that part of biodiversity that our eyes are not able to detect, that is why technology and image analysis is necessary. The girls learned how to sample aquatic systems, particularly non-visible organisms, achieving skills in their manipulation and preparation to be able to visualize them. They used technology to extract information, making visible and valuing these components of the aquatic systems.
  • Is pollination at risk? study of the production and viability of pollen grains (Fátima Aguilera Padilla): In this project, pollination was approached from two perspectives. On the one hand, the participating girls, after establishing hypotheses to address a research question, calculated the pollen production of several native species. On the other hand, they also estimated the mean viability of the pollen grains of these species by testing their enzymatic activity. They will also learned about the relevance of pollinators to maintain the balance of ecosystems.
  • Microbiological Zoo (Mª José Grande Burgos): During several days girls used the powerful vision of the microscope to analyze and visualize the surrounding microorganisms, that they also collected and grew in the lab, and to value their relevance.
  • What is essential is invisible to the eye: genes, proteins, microorganisms and their role in human reproduction (Eva Vargas Liébanas): Through this project, the participating girls delved into the molecular causes that lead to infertility in humans. For this purpose, they managed public biological information sources, from which they obtained data for subsequent analysis using bioinformatics tools.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning for society (Mª José del Jesús Díaz, Mª Dolores Pérez Godoy and Mª Isabel Cabrera Bermejo): Through this project, the girls were introduced to Data Science, in the application and construction of Artificial Intelligence models, more specifically in machine learning, which are capable of learning from data to obtain knowledge that can be directly transferred to improve society.

Besides the immersion in real STEM research projects, girls participated in other interesting activities such as a scientific gymkhana, an outdoor excursion or several hands-on workshops and interactive meetings (Figure 2). For instance, during the first day of the GEM week, they took part in the workshop “Create and surprise, shaping our ideas” led by Ximena Villalonga, founder of the company Xcience Designs. During this session, the GEM girls were challenged to choose a research line related to ICT to which they had to create an innovative solution providing a value for society. Then, they used different materials to represent that idea (LEGO pieces, colored glass bead or playdough), underlining its strengths compared to other proposals and selling it to the potential sponsors or funding sources keeping in mind who the end-users or customers would be (see Figure 1).

In other workshop, they learned about bioinformatics and its power to study biological evolution in a collaboration with Carolina Osuna-Mascaró and María Martín-Peciña (details about the tasks developed can be found at https://zenodo.org/record/5946898#.Yyyxr9VBxH4). In addition, they also attended two interactive meetings with female role models that built successful companies from the scratch (AllGenetics by Alexandra Perina and Bioliza by Isabel Cano-Caballero) and that shared their personal and professional experiences in a format of a relaxed discussion with girls about the challenges they encountered and how they solved it, thus facing some gender stereotypes related to the world of business.

The GEM week closed with an excursion to a natural area organized by the company CE2A El Acebuche dedicated to consulting, ecotourism and environmental education so the girls could also learn from this activity about how to make an idea turn into a real company apart from going hiking in the mountains and contemplate the night sky in an astro-tourism experience (Figure 4).

Finally, during the Final GEM Conference, the girls presented their outcomes from the week, in terms of the personal experience lived and results from the research done, inspired by Agueda Grass-Velazquez, Head of the Science Education Department at European Schoolnet, that gave a touching and motivating closure talk for this open-doors event  (Figure 5). Surprisingly, some of the participating girls presented several products that they elaborated over the GEM week (a game for learning about cryptic ecosystems, soaps to represent petri dishes or an Instagram account to show wet lab techniques) which could be the seed for powerful entrepreneurship ideas.

Social activities and workshop about bioinformatics. Source: Organizing team of the GEM 2022 summer camp.

Feedback

“This type of initiative seems essential to me and I am sure that they help the girls to have references and feel more empowered.” Lecturer

“I liked seeing how the girls increased their interest in research and their self-confidence as the days went by. The group has been willing to participate and has shown great interest in the activities.” Mentor

“However, the numbers, the figures, the statistics show that the balance between the participation of girls in the development of scientific innovations is far below their proportion as half of the human population. This situation forces, at different levels of responsibility, to take initiatives and draw up strategies and policies that allow us to reverse this situation, which makes no sense.” Rector of the University of Jaén

“Thanks to the GEM Camp I have begun to see science in a different way.” Participating girls

“At the school it is almost all theory and on this Camp it has been more practical, I have enjoyed it more.” Participating girls

“I did not have enough knowledge about science, but this year I have learned about entrepreneurship and innovation.” Participating girls

“I was already interested in science but now I have seen how it is present in our daily lives.” Participating girls

Summer School 2021

Women are half of the world population but their representation in science, technology and leadership aspects is much lower. Therefore, society is losing half of the humanity talent and a very valuable and necessary view for progress towards an egalitarian world and the commitment to science as a solving tool for global and inclusive problems. The GEM initiative was born from this idea with the aim of awakening the interest and promoting the potential of girls in STEM and TIC disciplines. This initiative has materialized in Spain with the celebration of a GEM Summer School at the University of Jaén with the purpose of offering an immersive research experience for girls around the region to delve into real research projects lead by outstanding scientific women who acted as their mentors. We fulfill the number of participants initially established, thus involving 64 girls from 14 to 18 years old and 19 female scientist mentors in the GEM Summer School. Girls, in small groups of five as maximum, worked together under the supervision of a female scientist mentor who guided them. In this way, we managed to bring science closer to girls through leading women, with whom they worked really close during the School, while at the same time pointing out the value of women in science and the excellent investigations they currently carry out.

This first edition of the GEM Scientific School in Spain took place from the 19th to the 23rd of July 2021 in the venues of the University of Jaén. This amazing week of science and fun started with an inaugural act led by Marta Romero Ariza, as head of the GEM project in Spain, and members of the University involved in cultural, equality and research units that transmitted meaningful and motivation messages to girls and their families that also attended this open session. During their immersion in outstanding research projects, girls had the chance to visit cutting-edge equipped laboratories, computer rooms, the microscopy department of the University, several outdoor facilities (botanical garden, a research pond, etc). Furthermore, they virtually visit the National Museum of Natural Science in Madrid and enjoy an inspiring talk from Ximena Villalonga (Xsciencedesigns), a scientific jewelry designer who has developed her career in a very entrepreneurial and creative way. Social and ludic activities were also crucial to build close and strong bonds between girls. Thus, free time during meals, social dynamics or
the scientific gymkana were key to reach this purpose. In fact, some girls play a game in which they thought about skills and attitudes of a scientific woman, emerging a wide variety of them such as creativity, responsibility, intelligence and enthusiasm.

Final GEM Congress

The final GEM congress brought together all the girls participating in GEM and their families, mentors and various representatives of the University and other educational institutions. Although, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, a limited capacity of attendees to the event was established, to spread the GEM message and reach as many people as possible, the congress was recorded and broadcast live on YouTube.

During this closure ceremony of the GEM week we enjoyed a deeply stimulating conference by the researcher and scientific leader Mª Isabel Sola Gurpegui (National Center for Biotechnology) who told us about her professional career and the Spanish vaccine to fight against the COVID-
19 that is being successfully developed by the group she leads.
Girls participating in GEM were the main protagonists of this act. They surprised us with their wonderful communication skills to convey all the exciting experiences lived at GEM and the amazing projects they worked on during the week.

We trust that after the GEM Summer School, participating girls have experienced the excitement of contributing to the improvement of society through scientific research; being aware of their potential and the interesting opportunities of professional and personal development that the STEM field offers, overcoming limiting beliefs and gender stereotypes.

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