The Gills Club meets the National STEM crisis head on

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s signature education initiative is the Gills Club
Students practice "tag and release". Cynthia Wigren photo.

By Cynthia Wigren

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s (AWSC) signature education initiative, the Gills Club was set up with the intention of jump starting girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by connecting girls with an interest in sharks to female shark researchers and their work. Little did AWSC's President Cynthia Wigren know that this free club, which has met a handful of times over its first six months, would have such an immediate and dramatic impact on students' grades.

Marianne Long, AWSC Education Director, recently began receiving praise from parents that gave incredible details about the profound impact this small organization has already had on Cape Cod kids. Bob Fiske, father of West Yarmouth Middle School student Paige Fiske is one of those grateful parents. Fiske recounts how 6th grade teacher Amy Ferreira suggested that his daughter Paige join the Gills Club after she struggled to get a C during her first term at a new school.

Fiske conveyed his immense pride upon reviewing Paige’s second term report card: “Membership and participation in the Gills Club empowered my daughter to transform a "C" in 6th grade science on her first term report card into an "A-" for the second term. The Gills Club expanded her knowledge and passion for all things shark, introducing her to many other young female shark enthusiasts and scientists. Paige demonstrated the courage, curiosity, confidence and commitment to improve her grade.”

Cherie Stulsky from Cotuit said, "My daughter has been more interested in other aspects of marine biology since joining the Gills Club. She also shares information about sharks with her friends and her class at school."

Click to see the website.Gills Club co-founder, Cynthia Wigren, said, “According to the US Department of Commerce, women represent about half of the workforce but only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. Women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in STEM. Additionally the National Math + Science initiative warns that less than 20 percent of students of either gender choose a STEM path and that the US may be short of as many as three million high-skilled workers by 2018. We are seeing what some have called a national STEM crisis, and I am thrilled that the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy can help make a difference in addressing this negative trend on a local level.”

Wigren is anticipating a fun-filled fall for the Gills Club, which offers free membership to girls of any age and has over 30 female scientists from around the world participating in the program. In addition to a monthly newsletter, blog and Facebook group page, The Gills Club offers hands-on learning opportunities through its partnerships with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, MA and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL.

You can find out more information and how to join here. The Gills Club is an education initiative of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. AWSC supports scientific research, improves public safety, and promotes shark education. Find out more here.

Below the students show off their shark facts. Photo by Cynthia Wigren.

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