Maine to Maryland, GEMS student travels miles for experience

August 05, 2015

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Students experienced hands-on learning in a U.S. Army laboratory environment while working alongside Army scientists and engineers and conducting real-world STEM projects
  • GEMS students worked on the Arduino, which is similar to the Raspberry pi coding, or processing
  • Exposing students to an area of technology that will dominate their lives in the future

Several students recently attended the weeklong Gains in the Education of Math and Science program at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The program is run by the Army Educational Outreach Program and is designed as an extracurricular science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The program provides rising 5th through 12th grade students hands-on learning experiences in a U.S. Army laboratory environment while working alongside Army scientists and engineers and conducting real-world STEM projects.

One of the recent students was Sophie Bray, a 10th grade high school student from Yarmouth, Maine, and the granddaughter of Dr. James McCauley, from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. She said she was interested in attending the program because her brothers had attended GEMS and had shared their experiences with her.

"I hoped to learn more about computer science, because seeing my older brother working on projects dealing with the Raspberry pi inspired me to also work on computer science," Bray said.

Bray shared some of the activities she was involved in while attending the GEMS course.

"We would usually have someone give a slideshow on the activities we were going to learn throughout the day. Then, we would work on something like the Arduino, which is similar to the Raspberry pi coding, or processing. And, then, towards the end of the day, we would have a speaker talk about areas in computer science and how it contributes to everyday life – finishing the day we would usually talk about leadership and upcoming college plans and ask questions," explained Bray.

Bray said she takes honors and AP [advanced placement] courses in science, English, math and history at her high school. She also said that being at GEMS has helped her form ideas about possible career paths and has given her a lot to think about.

"The idea of working with the military interests me because of the many benefits it has. Working with the Arduino and coding to light up LEDS was very fun. I learned many concepts within computer science, but it will be hard to take them back into the classroom (due to the lack of coding classes at my school). Although, I learned about myself as a leader and I will definitely take that back to the classroom," said Bray. "Also, making friends with people out of Maine was exciting."

At school Bray is also involved in the class council, but said her true passion is ballet.

"I dance with the Maine State Ballet and just got promoted to the position of an apprentice. I dance Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays (if a show/rehearsal), and Sundays (if a show). I perform in all of Maine State Ballet's productions (Nutcracker being my favorite). We have a total of 25 ballets that we perform and each year we perform about five. I sacrificed a week of the six-week summer intensive I do each summer for ballet for GEMS, but it was worth it," said Bray.

McCauley said he couldn't be more proud of his granddaughter and happy she had this experience.

"I encouraged Sophie to attend the GEMS program here even though she had to come all the way here from Down East. I knew her two brothers had a great experience three years ago; both are now either entering or in college," said McCauley, ARL Fellow Emeritus. "She has focused on the ballet for many years and she is an extremely good student, but we believed that this would be a wonderful way of taking her out of her comfort zone, meet new students and expose her to an area of technology that will dominate our lives in the future."

Bray said she found the opportunity also allowed her to know herself better as a leaner/leader and allowed her to learn "amazing and intriguing computer sciences." She said she would definitely recommend GEMS to her friends.

For more information about Army-wide STEM programs and opportunities, please visit the AEOP website:


Last Update / Reviewed: August 5, 2015