Students explore their interest in STEM through the GAINS conference


Libby Kaseta '22

The GAINS conference took place November 19.

Ten Sacred Heart students enhanced their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills at the Girls Advancing in STEM (GAINS) conference, hosted by Greenwich Academy via Zoom November 19.  The students engaged in presentations and activities with more than 50 renowned scientists from around the country who volunteered to take part in the conference.  These scientists focused on their specialties and explained their major research projects along with their daily schedules.

Dr. Decker gives part of the keynote address November 19.  Courtesy of Dr. Ann Decker

There have been annual GAINS conferences since its founding six years ago.  In previous years, the GAINS Initiative partnered with universities across the country where they held the three-day conferences.  Due to COVID-19, the event occurred over Zoom this year.  Dr. Ann Decker, founder of GAINS and director of the conference, is a teacher at Greenwich Academy who hopes to spark the interest of young women in STEM fields.

“I started GAINS because I wanted to build something that would help high school girls who are interested in STEM,” Dr. Decker said.  “Because girls are so underrepresented in STEM fields, I think that one of the major things that happens is that they choose not to go into STEM really early on in their lives because they don’t see many possibilities.  I wanted to make a place where girls can connect with peers who are also interested in STEM and with women in the field so they can have role models who have succeeded and can in turn envision themselves doing that same work.”

Sophomore Lulu Caruso participated in this virtual day of learning.  First, she explored two 30-minute talking sessions entitled “Gaining the Advantage: How Can We Protect Our Brain Cells from Disease in Neurodegenerative Disorders?” and “The Role of A Medical Student-Run Free Clinic in NYC: East Harlem Health Outreach Partnership.”  Lulu also participated in Zoom calls with fellow students, allowing her to meet other young women with similar interests in science.  Finally, she engaged in a STEM tour called “Why Don’t Bighorn Sheep Get Concussions?: Neuroscience + Morphology Give Us Clues.”  Each student in the conference had a similar schedule depending on their specific interests.

Students participated in a presentation from Dr. Jennifer Blaze over Zoom.  Claudia El-Masry ’23

“I always loved science and wanted to immerse myself with girls just like me, and the GAINS conference strengthened and expanded my passion, ” Lulu said. “Also, my instructor’s work really inspired me.  This was my first year working and exploring this network, and ultimately it influenced me to open up to different fields of science.  These mentors and their career paths gave a new perspective in my future career in science.”

In addition to learning specifics about different fields of science, the GAINS Initiative, under the direction of Dr. Decker, made it a priority to provide time for the students to get to know other young women who are interested in the same sciences.  Dr. Decker also emphasized the importance of building relationships with the scientists as they can serve as possible role models and contacts for their future.

“I would encourage high school girls to think more about building what I would call a professional STEM network,” Dr. Decker said.  “I think it is important for young women to have a network of people whom they can rely on, ask questions too, and who will help to navigate the next steps in their career.”

Featured Image by Libby Kaseta ’22