"Often times they fear math because they have struggled with it for so long. This camp proves to them that not only is math fun, but it is relevant in our everyday life." -Irene Vega, La Joya ISD Teacher
The Texas Graduate Center, in partnership with La Joya ISD, and The Organization of Women Executives, launched GEM Camp for a second year this summer. Girls Engaged in Mathematics is a math camp focused on improving girls’ ability and confidence in math. Dr. Alda Benavides, La Joya ISD superintendent, initiated the creation of GEM Camp when she expressed an interest in preparing the districts young girls to have greater confidence and skill in mathematics. With the support from Texas Valley Communities Foundation, a local non-profit organization with a mission to further education in South Texas, her vision was realized. This year’s camp focused on rising 3rd and 4th grade girls.
This year’s camp saw the return of all three teachers from last summer’s camp. Irene Vega, La Joya ISD, Denise Rivas, MISD and Maribel Berrones, South Texas ISD were joined by returning university mentor Jocelyn Olmedo and first-year GEM mentors Pamela Matias and Ydana Gracia.
The week-long camp focused on math content as well as building confidence in math and reducing math anxiety. Each morning, the girls participated in a Career Connection in which the girls were exposed to leading professionals in various STEM Careers such as architecture and robotics.
The idea was to expose girls to careers in STEM and show them how math ties into each career.
“I love how the direction taken was one of architecture, robotics, medicine and forensic science
instead of baking or fashion design,” said Vega “The idea that resonated with the young ladies
was, anything is possible. It’s not just for boys!” Vega believes camps like GEM are essential for
young ladies because it instills in them a sense of confidence and self worth, “Often times they
fear math because they have struggled with it for so long. This camp proves to them that not
only is math fun, but it is relevant in our everyday life. What we can do with math is amazing,
but it’s imperative that we, as educators and role models get this message across.”
One such role model was Pamela Matias, a GEM Mentor currently studying Biology at the
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “For me, every morning meeting and lunch period,
when all the girls were together, was the best part,” said Matias. “You can really see them
learning to work together and how excited they were to be in GEM camp. They were always
talking about what they did in the labs, which was a good sign that they were learning and
also having fun,” added Matias.
The 5-day camp culminated with a Pi Party to celebrate the girls’ progress and accomplishments. The Pi Party, a reference to the mathematical term “pi,” included refreshments and colorful boas for each guest. Accomplished female guest speakers addressed the audience and encouraged the girls to work hard and pursue careers in the area of STEM.
This years speakers included Dalinda Alcantar, co-founder of Border Kids Code and board member for the RGV chapter of The Organization of Women Executives and Dr. Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa, CEO of Leadership Empowerment Group, LLC and full time professor of leadership studies with the School of Business at Our Lady of the Lake University.