Jessica Certain has been passionate about rocks and the outdoors since she was young and grew up going rock collecting, camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing. She continues to participate and enjoy these activities today and loves to do these things with family and friends when she can. This is where her interest in STEM fields began, and after taking a break from education following high school, she threw herself into studying and learning about these subjects. She is currently finishing up her Associate of Science at Yavapai College in Prescott and will soon move to Ohio to study at Miami University and earn her Bachelor of Science in Geology. Jessica hopes that throughout her career, her work will preserve natural resources and the environment, be aware of and prepare for natural disasters, and help promote environmental and STEM education.
Jessica currently works with GEM Environmental as a STEM Education Specialist and helps assemble and prepare lesson plans for Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) students. Through GEM’s partnership with the Community Nature Center (CNC), they have been able to provide much-needed COVID-19 relief for PUSD by hosting STEM programming for students while schools are in hybrid and online learning. In the future GEM will support these students by providing after-school programs and field trips, and Jessica is excited to be able to participate in this as well. She believes science is needed in order to learn about the world we live in and is essential in finding ways to continue taking care of our planet.
When Jessica develops these lesson plans, she often thinks about how excited the students are when they get to dig in the dirt or assemble pictures of dinosaur bones. Jessica recognizes the importance of introducing STEM curriculum at an early age and hopes that as these students move on to higher levels of education, the concepts explored with GEM during their STEM Days at the CNC will provide a strong foundation for their continued learning. She loves how passionate people in scientific fields are, and enjoys discussing different aspects of the sciences with her peers.
On a normal day, you can find Jessica absorbed in her studies, spending time outside, reading a book, playing with her dog, or enjoying time with her husband and family. Please reach out to Jessica if you have any questions about geology, lesson planning, or GEM Environmental! You can reach her via email at email@example.com.
Women's History Month- Ellen Snyder
Ellen Snyder grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois and when not reading, she was outdoors experiencing nature. Growing up, her science teachers in middle and high school made biology, chemistry, and physics fun and interesting. This made Ellen a curious student, always looking for more to learn. One fond memory she has is of her eighth-grade science teacher who always said, “Never say ‘eww’ when in my class, I only want to hear ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’”
Her parents emphasized gardening, recycling, and believed she and her brother should be outdoors as much as possible. Being a bookworm, her mom would tell Ellen to read outside to get some sunshine. Ellen was also often outdoors playing with her brother and attending classes about geology and local animals at the nature center in town. She also was a Girl Scout through high school, which introduced her to camping and hiking. Living in a suburban area these experiences out in the wilderness helped her connect even more to the Earth. As she got older, she began to better understand the impact humans have on the natural world and that it is our responsibility to care for the land, water, plants, animals, microorganisms, and all other inhabitants of the Earth.
Ellen finds that people within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are so passionate, intelligent, and creative; they’re always willing to talk about their field of expertise and give advice. This was especially true within Ellen’s educational and professional experiences. She had professors, coworkers, and classmates that gave her a new perspective on conservation, agriculture, and sustainability. After high school, she attended the local community college, Harper College, and received an Associate of Arts. Ellen then attended Monmouth College, a small liberal arts school on the western edge of Illinois, to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science.
She always knew she wanted to pursue a degree in biology, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year of college after an ecology course with an inspirational professor that Ellen realized environmental science was the direction in which she was meant to go. While attending college Ellen was a member of the environmental club, President of a student-run organic educational garden, conducted rare fern research as a senior, and assisted in prescribed burns near campus.
Ellen also worked several restoration-based jobs during her summers while attending college, including assisting with a ten-year biodiversity project to restore native plant species to former farmland and removing non-native plant species from forest preserves. She credits these summer experiences to really giving her an edge when applying for opportunities after graduation.
Ellen’s other job experience includes: being the only female crew leader at a landscaping company, a medical laboratory technician, agricultural soil analyst, and medical cannabis cultivator. One of the most difficult things Ellen had to realize after graduation was that life plans can change, whether that is because of moving to a new state or a pandemic, but the best way to move forward is to keep trying new things. Finding AmeriCorps and becoming a team member within GEM Environmental has given Ellen a new perspective on what she wants to do with her time. This term with AmeriCorps has also emphasized the importance of education for younger students and has given Ellen confidence in teaching. She finds the students she works with to be inquisitive and she especially enjoys the wonderful conversations she has with them about the natural world.
Ellen has brought to GEM her knowledge of biological and ecological concepts to help create lesson plans for the K-6th grade students at the Community Nature Center (CNC). The lessons at the CNC focus on providing nature-based education to students during COVID-19 who do not have access to technology nor a safe place to learn when school is not in session. She also assists with projects concerning native plant species and worked with Madison Link to create a presentation to assist teachers in educating their students about invasive plants in Arizona for the Summer Institute hosted by the Center for Nature and Place through Prescott College.
Ellen believes accessibility to STEM fields, no matter someone’s socioeconomic or geographic background, is essential. STEM fields make up such a large portion of the world around us, whether it’s nature where you have a picnic, the tablet you watch movies on, the medical equipment that saves lives, or the calculations that sent a rover to look for ancient life on Mars, all these fields of study are so important.
When Ellen isn’t helping with GEM’s programs she enjoys exploring and hiking in the Prescott area, reading science fiction novels, baking interesting dessert recipes, spending time with her husband, dog, and cat, and learning how to garden in the high desert!
If you have any questions for Ellen, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would be happy to talk about GEM’s programs, what it’s like to pursue a career in science, or how great plants are!
Sitting in the stern of the 61-foot yawl sailing through Puget Sound, Emily had a brief conversation with a science teacher that helped to steer her path as an educator. Emily was a marine educator for a sailing-based science and leadership development program for students in Washington State, and loved connecting students with their watershed through experiential education. She had been working as an educator for field-based science programs for several years and realized that being a teacher would allow her to develop meaningful relationships with students and build field-based science experiences into the curriculum throughout the year.
Looking back at her science education, Emily was always drawn to the natural world and loved her biology classes but felt that pursuing higher-level science was only for the analytically minded. Near the end of her studies of art history and museum education in college, she explored how artists were using temporary installations and earthworks sculptures in ways that fused the worlds of science and art. Now as a teacher, she reflects on how her childhood preconception about what a scientist looks like or what it means to be “good at science” did not reveal the truly interdisciplinary nature of the field. She works to dispel these misconceptions in her classroom and to let her students know that the world needs creative and critical thinkers from all backgrounds who feel empowered to use the scientific process in innovative ways.
Emily is continually impressed with how GEM has adapted to support STEM education for K-12 students in the community, while still setting aside resources and time to remove financial barriers for students in higher education through the generous scholarship program. Emily is honored to be a part of the GEM team as the Director of Scholarships and is excited to see where the future takes them.
Women's History Month- Madison Link
Madison Link grew up in Georgia and knew from a young age how important the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are. Madison’s mom and dad are major role models for her. They both were huge advocates for the importance of education, and both have careers in the STEM fields. Madison’s mom, Tina Link, is a high school biology teacher and would often stop on nature walks to point out moss and pinecones. Tina’s excitement for the most basic things in nature instilled Madison’s appreciation and scientific curiosity for the world around her. Madison’s dad, Michael Link, is a data researcher and has a very analytical frame of mind. His business skills such as looking at a problem logically, helped Madison learn from an early age how to create plans, keep track of patterns, and more. Madison’s parents made a huge impact in her life, thus she was not surprised when STEM fields of study interested her as she entered college.
Madison attended college at Georgia College & State University. She loved both psychology and mathematics and started studying them within her first semester. Her teachers were very supportive and she was often found talking to them after class about specific research stories, lecture information, and other academic material. Additionally, Madison invested herself in further academic opportunities such as an independent study on Lagrange’s Theorem and entering a lab on Harm Reduction Methods for Substance Abuse. She was always hungry to learn more about both mathematics and psychology, that passion led to her being elected as ‘Most Outstanding Senior Award’ in the psychology field.
Madison graduated Summa Cum Laude in the Spring of 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Mathematics. Afterward, she knew she wanted to serve the country while also exploring a new place. With that in mind, AmeriCorps was the perfect next step for her!
In July of 2019, Madison moved to Prescott, Arizona to be GEM Environmental’s first VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America). Madison started as their Program Coordinator and instantly began to enact programs that engaged more underrepresented students in STEM fields. While Madison was in college, she was one of only five girls that took advanced mathematics classes, as a result, she felt it was important to showcase that women can excel in STEM fields.
In school, Madison often felt that women and other minorities in STEM fields were pressured to exceed expectations. Consequently, if these groups fell short of their goals, they were frequently mocked or looked down upon. To change that narrative, Madison started the STEM School Day initiatives. With this initiative, Madison went into schools and hosted engaging STEM Days with diverse students. For each STEM Day, she ensured that the students were simultaneously having fun and expanding their understanding of STEM. These events consisted of activities such as making paper bats fly, creating cars out of toilet paper rolls, and deploying a popsicle stick catapult! Madison’s methodology is that by keeping the mood positive and fun, more students will enjoy the STEM fields instead of feeling like they are too difficult to pursue.
However, Madison’s focus expanded beyond younger students. She also worked with college-age students by helping to grow the GEM for STEM Lecture Series. Throughout this series, Madison collaborated with professors at Yavapai College and invited STEM professionals as guest speakers to college classes. The guest speakers would discuss their profession: how they got started in it, the connections they made, and more. The role of these guest speakers was to show students the various careers they could have in STEM fields and to provide students professional connections. Many students have benefitted from this series, two even changed their field of study after hearing a guest lecturer speak.
In July of 2020, when Madison’s term finished, she transitioned from being a VISTA with GEM to being a staff member. She continues to work as the Program Coordinator, but she now focuses on building lesson plans for the Community Nature Center (CNC) which acts as a COVID-19 Education Relief Center. Students between grades K-6th who do not have access to technology, WiFi, or a safe learning space can come to the CNC to participate in place-based learning activities and receive help with their online schooling. Madison and others on the GEM team work to provide STEM lessons for the CNC and assist with the program at least twice a week. Madison feels very grateful that she can support the community during the pandemic, while also furthering GEM’s mission to help underrepresented students enter STEM fields.
During her year and a half with GEM, Madison has also been instrumental in collecting data for all of the on-going and new programs. She does this by creating surveys for the students GEM serves and analyzing the data from those survey responses. This data has since been used to initiate changes to the programs and ensure they are impacting as many students as possible, while also ensuring the programs remain fun and informative.
Outside of GEM, Madison has loved exploring all that Arizona has to offer. She is often traveling to new areas and exploring new hiking trails. She has also loved learning to rock climb in the Prescott Dells and is excited to rock climb in Sedona one day. During the week, Madison is often found cooking fun dishes with friends, including tandoori chicken, pad thai, and more.
If you have any questions for Madison, please feel free to reach out to her at email@example.com. She would be happy to discuss GEM’s programs, her position at GEM, or anything else!
Women's History Month- Annette Sunda
Annette Sunda grew up on the beaches and mountains of southern California, she comes from a long line of outdoors people and was immersed in nature at a young age. Family road trips were to far-flung mountain destinations and always included a stop or more for rock collecting. Her third-grade science fair project was a poster board explaining the difference between obsidian and granite (rapid cooling above ground & slow cooling below ground), but it took turning thirty for her to decide she wanted to be a geologist.
Annette was in no way a typical college student. She started taking courses at the local community college while still in high school, but as they say, life happens. Shortly after high school, Annette moved to rural Washington state with her parents. She went to community college there for a year but decided that maybe college was not for her, and began working. Annette worked a series of dead-end low-wage jobs and eventually found her way back to southern California. After years of working at a medical billing office and being prodded by her sister to return to school, she decided to enroll at the local community college. Attending classes was not easy, especially because the core math and science courses were only offered during the day when Annette was busy working.
After years of taking one course at a time in the evenings, and just before her 30th birthday, Annette completed her Associates of Arts in Math and Science. With that accomplishment in hand, Annette felt motivated to pursue her Bachelor of Science. She had a conversation with the office manager about adjusting her work schedule to allow Annette to attend calculus, physics, and chemistry courses. Her manager’s response was “It’s time for you to decide between work and school”. A week later, Annette left her job of almost 10 years to follow her dream of being a geologist. Life was not easy after that, but her dream kept her going. She had to give up her apartment and beg her family for assistance. They criticized her and some said, “you should quit school and go back to work, you had a good life before”. Annette refused and found herself sleeping on the couch of a classmate who believed in her.
One year after leaving her office job, Annette had completed calculus and chemistry and was on her way to university. She was accepted at Northern Arizona University in the Spring of 2015, and so she loaded up her car and drove to Arizona. She was not without help from many kind people, housing was secured through childhood friends, and her parents mailed care packages of dried vegetables from their garden. Annette was driven by her dream of being a geologist, but also by the memory of all that she had given up to go to school. She found mentors on campus that informed her of career fairs and opportunities, they helped her draft her resume and application documents. By the end of her first semester, Annette was a student contractor at the U.S. Geologic Survey Astrogeology Science Center (Astro) and was awarded a NASA Space Grant for the following school year. Student contracts at the USGS are good for up to two years, and that is exactly how long it took Annette to complete her BS in geology.
After completing her goals so quickly, and not knowing what else to do, she enrolled in a master’s program for computer science and returned to work at Astro as a Pathways Intern. As an intern, Annette was able to use and build both her geology and computer science skill sets. Upon completion of her Master of Science, Annette decided she wanted to work with “her boots on the ground”, and although she was sad to leave Mars behind, she found a position at GEM that allowed her to gain the field and tactile experiences she was looking for.
Annette now works for GEM Environmental as an AML Monitoring Technician, and she could not be happier. Her main responsibilities include hiking through Abandoned Mine Lands, locating remediated mine features, and recording their current condition. She uses all aspects of her education in her daily activities. Her training as a geologist gave her the skills she needs to maneuver through the landscape while her computer science skills enable her to interact with the data and database managers. Annette has found her happy home with GEM Environmental and hopes to work with them for many years, her current goal is to help them grow and expand their operations in New Mexico.
Women's History Month- Abby Ruby
Abby Ruby is from Bel Air, Maryland and is a recent graduate from The University of Alabama where she majored in Mechanical Engineering. Throughout her entire education, starting from Kindergarten, she has loved school and especially thrived in science and math. In high school, Abby realized how much she enjoyed AP Physics and AP Calculus. She consequently formed special connections with her STEM teachers who convinced her that engineering would be the perfect path for her. However, as a first-generation college student, Abby had many obstacles to face when thinking about her post-high school options. Despite these adversities, Abby wouldn’t let anything slow her down while she pursued her dreams of higher education. She worked hard, took a total of 15 AP classes in high school, scored in the top 90th percentile in the ACT and SAT, all while paying for these tests and extracurriculars with money she earned as a hostess and lifeguard. All of her hard work paid off when she received a full-tuition scholarship at The University of Alabama, which she accepted and declared a major in Mechanical Engineering. While majoring in engineering was no cakewalk, Abby loved her time in college, and made President’s List for her first two years! She also was a member of various engineering clubs such as The Society of Women in Engineering and B Cubed Sat, an organization that competed to put a satellite into space. She also was the captain of her school’s Ultimate Frisbee team, which was ranked 32nd in the country, out of 256 schools!
The work Abby did in college and during her engineering internships was often incredibly rewarding, including when she entered a Biomedical Engineering Design Competition. The objective of the challenge was to create a rehabilitative device or assistive technology to help someone with a disability. Doing market research and speaking to handicapped individuals, Abby and her engineering team found that partially mobile individuals oftentimes don’t have a way to stay active due to the lack of assistive mobility technologies. Therefore, these individuals usually end up completely sedentary through the use of a wheelchair, which is also expensive. Abby chose to develop a motorized walker to assist partially mobile people achieve an active and healthy lifestyle, but still find the support and motivation they need while walking. Abby and her team designed, created, and tested a motorized walker through mechanical design, electrical engineering, coding, and welding/ machining parts. However, due to COVID-19 shutting down all college facilities, Abby’s team was unable to finish the testing and final parts of their walker. In order to continue the project, they passed it on to the next team competing the following year. The ability to create an entirely new product designed to help others was incredibly rewarding and is one of Abby’s favorite engineering projects thus far.
Abby’s passion for STEM expands beyond just engineering. She is interested in all branches of STEM and received education in multiple STEM fields such as physics, mathematics, biomedical studies, computer coding, etc. In her engineering internships and during her senior year, Abby realized that she wanted to find career paths outside of traditional engineering and design. Since, she has explored options in environmental engineering, product management, and leadership. Although her future STEM career is still in the works, Abby enjoys being a lifelong learner and hopes to continue learning more about the sciences every day.
After college, Abby decided she wanted to pursue her passion for helping others but didn’t want to stray too far from STEM fields. She considered many different paths, such as teaching physics abroad for the Peace Corps, volunteering with AmeriCorps NCCC, or working with Teach for America. However, when she found the STEM Education Outreach Specialist position with GEM Environmental through AmeriCorps, she knew it was the perfect fit. By using her background to help other students find passion and success in STEM, Abby is able to find so much fulfillment in her role. Through Outdoor STEM Education for students in need of a learning facility, equitable educational programming, and her support of other GEM programming, Abby hopes to help under-served students find career pathways in STEM fields. Since her passions took her so far and earned her a free college experience, Abby wants to spread the benefits and importance of STEM education to any and all students.
Since Abby moved to Prescott, she has had so much fun exploring Arizona and the surrounding states. She loves the outdoors and any activity that gets her outside and moving such as hiking, rock climbing, camping, yoga, or kayaking! Working for GEM has been an amazing opportunity and she loves being a part of the Arizona Serve community.
If you have any questions for Abby, about anything from STEM careers to life in Arizona, please feel free to reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org!