GEMS and NIOST Expand STEM Club Connections to Math, STEM Identity, and Families

May 1, 2022

girl in STEMNew funding will support clubs in Pennsylvania's Venango and Clarion Counties, particularly in Franklin, Oil City, and Knox.

GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science), in partnership with the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST), is expanding connections to math and STEM identity activities for girls participating in GEMS clubs throughout the Venango and Clarion Counties area, with specific focus on Franklin, Oil City, and Knox. GEMS, with 16 clubs currently operating in Venango County, is a network of hands-on activity-based afterschool STEM clubs that focus on building girls’ STEM curiosity, interest, and persistence.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to offer deeper STEM learning opportunities to girls, including many who are low-income or underserved,” said Laura Reasoner Jones, founder and director of GEMS. “Building on the effective practices we’ve developed so far, we know this will have a significant positive impact on these girls’ lives and on their communities.”

With funding provided by the McElhattan Foundation, and under the sponsorship of the Bridge Builders Community Foundations, GEMS and NIOST plan to increase the scope and depth of math-focused and STEM identity-focused activities implemented in GEMS clubs. They will also develop a toolkit for parents so they can be more informed and prepared to best support their daughters’ participation in GEMS clubs.

GEMS and NIOST previously collaborated on a research study of two GEMS clubs in Venango County. NIOST found that GEMS girls were actively involved in STEM projects in a hands-on way. In club activities, they engaged in a wide range of science behaviors, such as exploring, experimenting, observing, discussing, using tools, and asking questions. They enjoyed the process of creating, innovating, and solving challenges. They were frequently amazed and joyful about what they were discovering. They were activated by the challenges they confronted and eager to try to solve them and to connect with each other for help when needed.

“Our previous work together helped us formulate strategies for keeping STEM learning strong for rural girls and others during their early experiences in informal STEM learning,” said Georgia Hall, Ph.D., director of NIOST. “Now we can use this information to help deepen the math and STEM identity connections to GEMS club activities. This is a really helpful step for girls aspiring toward STEM post-secondary study and STEM-focused careers.”

Slated to run through the end of 2022, this project will promote a more complete understanding of how to address the STEM learning needs of rural girls and how interventions such as GEMS that provide comprehensive curricula, activities, and club leader resources may close the STEM participation gap left by lack of transportation, local resources, economic stability, and role models.

“These investments in high-quality activities and parental involvement will continue to support a viable pipeline of STEM students into STEM secondary school classes, college, and career pathways,” said Jones. “It is essential for both the girls served and for the future of Venango and Clarion Counties to continue strengthening interest and experience in STEM.”


    "NIOST has been an anchor for numerous school age care projects we do, including ASQ (After-School Quality) and Links to Learning. They are a nationally respected organization that Pennsylvania has partnered with for over 20 years."

    – Betsy O. Saatman, TA Specialist/SAC Initiatives, Pennsylvania Key

    "NIOST was a core partner in supporting the development of quality improvement systems across the nine cities that participated in The Wallace Foundation Next Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative. The NIOST team worked well with other technical assistance partners in the initiative, always willing to pitch in and collaborate with others to make our professional learning community meetings a team effort. I truly hope the Foundation has an opportunity to partner with them in the future."

    – Priscilla M. Little, Initiative Manager, The Wallace Foundation


    "NIOST has been a leader in the out-of-school time field for as long as I can remember, and I have relied on their research, tools, and advice to improve my practice throughout my career. Their staff members are good partners and good listeners, and their influence across the country is palpable."

    – Jane Quinn, Vice President and Director of National Center for Community Schools, Children's Aid Society

    "Georgia Hall, Ellen Gannett, and the NIOST team have been instrumental in driving the healthy afterschool movement. Their dedication to quality practice, informed policy, and collective impact is instrumental in our effort to create healthier communities."

    – Daniel W. Hatcher, Director, Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

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The National Institute on Out-of-School Time

A program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College

Wellesley Centers for Women
Wellesley College
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481-8203 USA
Directions to NIOST

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