Education is a core mission of the Northwestern University Center for Reproductive Research. One of the primary educational issues we seek to tackle is the underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce. Across the nation, there is an alarmingly high attrition of girls, particularly minorities of low socioeconomic status, from the science pipeline. We have worked to address this issue by supporting educational outreach on a local level, in Chicago, and by raising awareness nationally.
Physical Science Weekend Academy
The Physical Science Weekend Academy (PSWA) is a science program designed to engage a diverse population of high school girls from Chicago to explore the basic science research, clinical applications, and career options in the area of physical science. Because structure-function relationships are critical to reproductive function and are the primary focus of our grant, we developed a high school program that shows girls exactly how exciting molecules, structures, and molecular bioscience can be. The CRR, in conjunction with The Women’s Health Science Program (WHSP), an established science partnership between Northwestern University’s Women’s Health Research Institute and Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, offered PSWA for the first time in November 2010 to a selected group of thirteen 10th – 12th grade high school girls. CRR not only provided funding that made the creation of the Physical Science Weekend Academy possible, it served as its inspiration and academic foundation.
In the Physical Science Weekend Academy, under the guidance of Heather Pinkett, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biosciences, in Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Science, students learn how scientists study structure-function relationships on a molecular level and how this research relates to women’s health. An entire Saturday is spent on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, working in the university’s state-of-the-art facilities, with graduate and undergraduate student mentors. Laboratory learning experiences include using purification, crystallography and computer imaging procedures to study the structure and function of proteins. Clinical learning experiences include researching proteins related to women’s health and exploring how the molecular interactions with drugs can be either harmful or helpful to human health.
A couple weeks after their on-campus experience,
students have the opportunity to build upon their knowledge by taking a trip to Argonne National Laboratory. One of the U.S. Department of Energy’s foremost national laboratories, Argonne is located right outside of the city of Chicago. It is also the site where many of the structures solved by CRR scientists occured. Students are given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne, where they get to see scientists using some of the nation’s most powerful x-ray beams to study molecular structure and function. This trip also serves to prepare the students for the next academy offered by the Women’s Health Science Program, the Oncofertility Saturday Academy, as students are given the chance to see scientists from Dr. Teresa Woodruff’s laboratory using synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence microscopy to study oocyte development.
USA Science and Engineering Festival
On the 23rd and 24th of October 2010, the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival was held on the National Mall, in Washington, DC. The mission of the festival, “to re-invigorate the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science gatherings in the United States” (http://www.usasciencefestival.org/about/mission), directly related to the CRR’s own educational initiatives. Consequently, CRR supported an exhibit at the festival that showcased the Women’s Health Science Program, drew attention to the underrepresentation of women in the science workforce, and presented knowledge about research focused on women's reproductive health. The event was a phenomenal success, with over 500,000 attendees! Link to Miranda Bernhardt's blog at http://blog.oncofertility.northwestern.edu/author/mbernhardt/ to read more about the event!