High Marks for Gills Club

By Doreen Leggett, Cape Codder

The Orleans-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s 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. The conservancy’s president Cynthia Wigren said little did she 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, conservancy education director, has been receiving praise from parents that gave details about the impact this small organization has already had on Cape Cod children. Bob Fiske, father of West Yarmouth middle school student Paige Fiske. is one of those grateful parents. Fiske recounted to Long how sixth-grade teacher Amy Ferreira suggested his daughter Paige join the Gills Club after she struggled to get a C during her first term at a new school.

“Membership and participation in the Gills Club empowered my daughter to transform a ‘C’ in sixth 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,” Fiske said.

Wigren said, according to the U.S. 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 U.S. 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,” she said.

Wigren said she expects a fun-filled fall for the Gills Club, which offers free membership to girls of any age and has more than 30 female scientists from around the world participating in the program. In addition to a monthly newsletter and Facebook group page, The Gills Club offers hands-on learning opportunities through its partnerships with Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, MA and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. For more information, visit www.gillsclub.org.