GEMS program reveals STEM career fields

DPW scientist introduces GEMS students to GIS applications

Kelsey McRoberts, a contractor with the APG Garrison Directorate of Public Works’ Geographic Information Systems Office, leads a discussion about GIS during a Gains in Education of Mathematics and Science, or GEMS, session that she led over the summer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Conference Center. |U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder, APG News

This summer, a contractor with the APG Garrison Directorate of Public Works introduced middle and high school students to geographic information systems, or GIS, during the Gains in the Education of Math and Science, or GEMS, program at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Conference Center.

Kelsey McRoberts of the DPW GIS Office, led four GEMS sessions, with assistance from her co-worker Bryant Debruyne. During each session, they gave the students an overview of GIS, an information system used to store and organize spatial data. The students brainstormed real-world applications of GIS, including environmental, military and land planning.

After group discussions, the students used GIS specialized software to perform analysis on species populations and hypothesize the future migration of two invasive species – the Africanized honey bee, known colloquially as “killer bees” and the zebra mussel.

McRoberts, who is pursuing a master’s degree in geospatial intelligence at Penn State University’s World Campus, said the students were eager to learn about GIS. She called the GEMS program “extremely valuable” because it sheds light on various science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields.

“There are so many STEM majors and career paths out there that high school students are completely unaware of,” she said. “The GEMS program not only provides students the opportunity to explore those fields, it also has the potential to help lead young minds to their passion.”

Giving back

McRoberts said she was introduced to the GEMS program as a college student, serving as a Near-Peer Mentor for two years. In this role, she promoted interest in high-level science and math classes and discussed college life and career pathways. McRoberts worked closely with Dr. Lisa Marvel, who has since retired from ARL.

McRoberts said Marvel, who students called “Dr. Lisa,” was a big advocate for STEM education.

“I believe my time spent helping Dr. Lisa teach the GEMS students, instilled in me the importance of giving back to the next generation,” she said. “I was honored to be given the opportunity to come back to GEMS as an instructor.

She called serving as a GEMS lab instructor a “rewarding experience.”

“I was excited to see that most of the kids were really engaged in the exercise and had many questions,” she said. “Teaching the lab was a rewarding experience. I like to share my journey with the kids, from working in GEMS as a college student to my current job at APG and my choice to pursue an advanced degree. I hope it helps to encourage them to consider a STEM path of their own.”

High school sophomore Madison Moran, said she enjoyed learning from McRoberts, and she is interested in serving as a Near-Peer Mentor when she is a college student.

“I think it’s pretty cool; I have never heard of GIS before today,” she said.

Leah Strayer, a high school freshman, said she attended GEMS to learn more about STEM careers.

“On my own, I wouldn’t look into the things that I am exposed to here,” she said. “It gives me the experience to make a good decision. Right now I am looking into cybersecurity, I am interested in becoming a security analyst.”

About GEMS

GEMS is a summer enrichment program for students who show an interest in STEM subjects, and is funded by the Army Education Outreach Program. Organized by age, grade and experience level, students participate in hands-on activities relating to science, engineering, mathematics, biomedical sciences chemistry and biology. This summer, ARL, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense collaborated to offer multiple sessions of GEMS.

For more information, visit -enrichment-activities/gems/, or email the ARL STEM Outreach Office at for specific APG program information.


By Rachel Ponder, APG News