SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Rear Adm. Cynthia Kuehner, commander of Naval Medical Forces Support Command and the 26th director of the Navy Nurse Corps, high-school aged girls at the megaGEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) end-of-summer research symposium at University of the Incarnate Word, Aug. 6.

The megaGEMS program consists of two four-week camps in which 16 girls from Allen, Bexar, and Medina Counties, focused on exposing them to challenges that incorporate subjects in chemistry, mechanical engineering, and the programming language Python.

The purpose of GEMS is to inspire and empower young girls to be innovative with their future in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The camps, funded by the Army Education Outreach Program, covers various topics of education to which the students would not normally be exposed.

Some of the programs include developing teamwork skills, learning how to better their communities with their knowledge, being creative outside the box, and developing self-sufficiency, according to Stephanie Weiss-Lopez, GEMS project manager and coordinator.

The goal of GEMS is to increase the number of female students interested in STEM careers, especially in engineering and computer programming. The objective, according to Weiss-Lopez, is to increase the number of females students from underrepresented communities choosing STEM-related pathways in high school, STEM-related vocations, or STEM-related majors upon graduation from high school.

Kuehner spoke to the young girls about how impressed she was with their summer projects and to think about incorporating their passions into their futures. She encouraged them to use their internal motivation to think about places they would like to inspire and lead others as she viewed their summer projects.

“Think about your dream career, what does it look like to you, and just think about those roles they might play along the way,” said Kuehner. “So, what does your dream job look like for you in the future? Take some time and imagine that, figure out what are you passionate about, and make sure your dreams, your passions, and what you are working on all align.”

Weiss-Lopez explained the importance of the young girls hearing from Kuehner as a woman that has successfully maneuvered and excelled in her chosen career.

“It is important for the girls to see accomplished high-ranking women achieving success in fields that are not traditionally seen as areas where women would thrive, from an early age, as this can bolster interest and confidence when pursuing those professions,” said Weiss-Lopez. “Rear Admiral Kuehner is the model leader in this regard, as she excels in several different disciplines; especially considering the high number of girls in the program that wish to pursue military careers post-graduation.”

The students took inspiration from Kuehner’s success in a STEM-related career within the Navy.

“She (Kuehner) has a lot of successes behind her and as a woman in STEM and in such a high leadership position, it is very inspiring for girls like us looking to go into the STEM field as women,” said Tanya Lertpradist, a second-year student with the GEMS program. “The fact that she is interested in seeing what we have done and how we have grown throughout our summer research is a really big opportunity.”

“I think it important (to hear from Kuehner) about how she worked her way up and wasn’t given her high position, it is a very important lesson how you can start at a basic level and can still achieve a lot in a field like STEM,” said Anneliese Coleman, another 2nd-year student in the GEMS program. “It was really inspiring for all of us here. It shows that even though we have our passions now, we can make something out of that.”

Kuehner also expressed that work-life balance is just as important as finding passion in your career.

“For me to have a whole balanced life, I have to play. I have to do things that enable me to enjoy my life around the work,” said Kuehner. “I have a lot of hobbies because they keep me balanced and whole. Think about making sure you make time (for hobbies) and continue to do that for the rest of your life.”

Some of the projects the students worked on involved simultaneous local ionization and mapping (SLAM) on the “Quanser QCar,” using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and odometry, use of image filtering to improve the training of autonomous vehicles, utilization and significance of LiDAR for inspections for utility companies, the utilization of technology within forensic pathology, and implementing Python coding in Tello micro-drones for object detection, color detection, and swarming.

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