The Gills Club is fostering the next generation of female scientists
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) proudly prioritizes a commitment to science and public education, and tirelessly works to battle stigmas in the water as well as on the shore. In 2013, the conservancy established its flagship education program, The Gills Club, which invites young women to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers and subject matter. With STEM being a historically male-dominated field, The Gills Club is a haven for girls to learn from professionals and receive early exposure to opportunities in the STEM sphere.
“We want to show these girls that science is for everyone,” says Marianne Long, education director for AWSC. “We want to introduce them to the remarkable women who are pioneering research across the world and give them role models to look up to.”
Working alongside the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, The Gills Club is networking curious girls—ages 13 and under—with a team of 80 female scientists eager to share their knowledge and donate their time to developing the next generation of breakthrough researchers. From all over the nation and across several continents, scientists network with and mentor the girls directly and remotely, utilizing social media as a constructive educational instrument to broaden AWSC’s reach beyond the Cape. Gills Club social media outlets and a comprehensive website make it easy for girls across the globe to get involved in the club and access materials and lessons taught in live sessions. Especially popular is a Gills Club blog, where scientists can remotely share lessons and research updates, as well as perspectives within the purview of a female scientist. Strengthened by the remarkable scope of social media, The Gills Club has recruited a staggeringly large following of over 1,200 girls representing 18 different countries—a testament to the influential work emerging from the Cape.
In the spirit of accessible education, AWSC utilizes engaging techniques to broaden the scientific vernacular of Gills Club members. Girls can sign up for free to receive monthly newsletters on Cape events that offer interactive, hands-on activities for girls as an introduction to the science of sharks and STEM career paths. Members of The Gills Club enjoy a number of activities, ranging from analyzing mock data to conducting dissections—helping implement the immersive aspect of science that primary education often lacks. Members are encouraged to explore their strengths and improve their weaknesses within the multifaceted program, in the hopes that they will be empowered to build their future upon a strong foundation. “Sharks are the hook that initially brought interested girls into our meetings, but skill development is the main goal,” says Long.
For AWSC, there is no greater satisfaction than seeing their conservation initiatives inspiring passion within young people. The conservancy’s conservation-through-education approach has touched a global audience, equipping girls with the skills necessary to empower change within the ocean, as well as the contemporary STEM sphere.