Penn GEMS Teaches Girls about Engineering, Math and Science

The fields of engineering, math and science traditionally attract more males than females, but the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) is working to change that by reaching out to middle school girls.


A week-long summer program called “Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science,” (Penn GEMS) introduces the young students to how math and science apply to everyday life. The sessions, taught by SEAS faculty and Penn Engineering students, give the 6th, 7th and 8th graders a taste of bioengineering, nanotechnology, robotics and computer science. 

This year, 52 girls from schools throughout the Philadelphia region were selected to participate in the program. Penn GEMS works to get the students excited and interested in math and science classes in high school, which could lead them to major in engineering, math and science in college.

In the robotics session, groups of students constructed robots using LEGO Mindstorms NXT building systems. As part of the bioengineering course, they learned about the structure and the chemistry of DNA and how to use enzymes to cut DNA into fragments. Then, they were invited to apply their knowledge on a mock murder scene, determining who committed the killing by testing blood droplets on the floor.

Nationally, women make up about 20 percent of engineering majors. But at Penn, women represent 30 percent of SEAS’ incoming class.

For more information about the program visit the GEMS webpage.

Text by Jeanne Leong

Video by Kurtis Sensenig