Girls from Across Vermont Discover Science at the UVM College of Medicine

AMWA Leaders (L to R): Catherine Hayes '18, Rachel Carlson '18, Soraiya Thura '18, Brianna Spencer '18, Shannon Brady '18, Samantha Siskind '18
AMWA Leaders (L to R): Catherine Hayes ’18, Rachel Carlson ’18, Soraiya Thura ’18, Brianna Spencer ’18, Shannon Brady ’18, Samantha Siskind ’18

On May 30th, almost 100 seventh and eighth grade girls from around Vermont arrived at the UVM College of Medicine for Girls’ Science Discovery Day.  This annual event, sponsored by the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), gives female middle school students an opportunity to explore science and medicine.  The day began with an introduction from Autumn Reilly ‘18, who participated in Girls’ Science Discovery Day in middle school, and a keynote address from UVM Assistant Professor of Pathology Dr. Rebecca Wilcox.  Students then spent the day rotating through workshops in anatomy, pathology, coagulation, physical exam skills, and clinical simulation.  It was an exciting day, and more than 25 students, as well as faculty and staff, helped make it possible.  Here are reflections from this year’s AMWA leaders on Girls’ Science Discovery Day 2015.

Shannon Brady ‘18
When I attended my first AWMA event of medical school back in August, I was overcome by the dedication and excitement that Class of 2017 AMWA leaders had towards Girls’ Science Discovery Day 2014.  It is easy for many medical students to lose track of the bigger picture amidst the hours of studying, but seeing their enthusiasm about this event while conquering their first year gave me hope that I too could encourage girls in the next generation to fall in love with science.  As both speakers mentioned in their opening remarks, one of the first steps to becoming a leader is learning to not be afraid to feel uncomfortable.  The day was in some ways designed to  help students break out of their comfort zones: They interacted with gross anatomy specimens, tried equipment in the simulation lab, and met lots of new people. As Dr. Jaworski, an AMWA faculty mentor, stated, some of the girls at this event traveled from over three hours away and did not know they had the option of going away to college before coming to the College of Medicine.  For me, knowing that this event opened them up to new opportunities was the most rewarding part of the day. It helped to put the tunnel of M1 into better perspective.

Rachel Carlson ‘18
In March, the AMWA leaders had a mailing party to send invitations to middle schools across Vermont.  We invited each school to select three girls who would benefit from the experience, and who would be excited to join in on activities that may be outside of their comfort zone (anatomy, yikes!).  Each school made their student selections using different methods, from top of the class, to essay contests, to students who needed a creative opportunity to achieve a higher level. The result was a diverse group of girls with a wide range of motivations and goals.  I was blown away by the dedication of the teachers and parents who spent their Saturday driving their girls across the state, through thunderstorms, to make it possible for their students to participate.  As a former high school teacher, I am thrilled to see strong and enthusiastic teachers and supportive parents who are working every day to ensure their students are prepared for futures in science.

Catherine Hayes ‘18
I was able to serve as a group leader for the morning sessions, and the enthusiasm was contagious.  The students were really engaged – taking notes, asking questions, and trying to get as much as possible from each of the sessions.  It was great to see how excited they were to learn, and it helped me remember why I first became interested in science and medicine.  A highlight was hearing one student say that she couldn’t stop smiling because everything was so cool.  I think this event is something I would have loved to be a part of when I was in middle school, and I am so glad that UVM’s AMWA Student Interest Group is able to reach so many students each year.  Hosting Girls’ Science Discovery Day takes a lot of preparation in advance, but the reactions from the girls and the smiles on their faces throughout the day definitely made all the planning worth it.

Samantha Siskind ‘18
I was surprised back in March when our group started to receive emails from middle schools inquiring about Girls’ Science Discovery Day before we had even printed out invitations.  It was clear early on that this is an event that schools look forward to year after year.  After experiencing this year’s event, I now understand why.  With the help of medical school faculty and students who volunteer their time and expertise, the day offers some truly unique experiences. Throughout the day, the participants seemed engaged, excited, and inspired as they got to perform an experiment with platelets, practice patient interviews and basic clinical skills with medical students, learn about and handle real human organs, and more.  At the end of the day, I saw several girls light up while talking about how excited they were to share their experiences with their parents and friends.  One teacher who has been bringing her students to this event for years approached me to share how significant this day has been for those who have come in the past, and how many of her younger students look forward to the opportunity to participate in this event in the future.  It was great to hear how much students appreciate and enjoy this event, and it was a privilege to help facilitate it this year.

Brianna Spencer ‘18
Although I was not a group leader for any of the groups, I was able to walk around to several of the stations to see how the event was going.  I was amazed by the enthusiasm and confidence that girls demonstrated.  In the coagulation lab, one of the girls mentioned that she had never done anything like this in science class and that she wished she had more experiences like this at school.  It was great to watch the girls try different physical exams and explore the different specimens in the pathology lab.  It was clear that all of the students were so grateful for this opportunity.  One of the students came up to me during lunch and said that she wished that her mom could see this event because she was so amazed by it. I feel very lucky that I was able to help broaden their horizons.  I hope that we inspired them and sparked their interest in science and medicine.

Soraiya Thura ‘18
Similar to previous years, we received a lot of support for Girls’ Science Discovery Day from over 20 medical student volunteers and faculty from various departments at the College of Medicine. Volunteers who served as group leaders welcomed the middle school students visiting from around the state, and made lasting connections with them throughout the day. Volunteers were also able to act as “standardized patients” in the physical exam skill workshop, by guiding the girls through a simple clinical case and teaching them relevant physical exam skills that real physicians would perform. The faculty members loved the enthusiasm and the questions that the students asked, and were particularly impressed this year at the level of interest and understanding of the middle school girls. I really enjoyed seeing students and faculty who are passionate about girls in science come together to influence students on an individual level, in meaningful ways.

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