Mixing mouse eggs and sperm and seeing the process of reproduction “come to life” is just one of the cool hands-on experiences that high-school girls get to see in the Penn Academy for Reproductive Sciences. With a focus on explaining the science behind human reproduction, the program also helps to educate the girls about careers in research and clinical medicine and help them better understand their own bodies.
The program runs three sessions a year -- fall, spring, and summer -- with 10 to 12 high school girls in each. They are chosen from Philadelphia schools based on specific criteria, including academic record, teacher recommendation, and essays explaining their interest in science. Monica Mainigi, MD, of Obstetrics and Gynecology, runs the program with Jamie Shuda, EdD, director of Outreach and Education for the Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Mainigi said that each session (six Saturdays during the school year or three consecutive days in the summer) starts with a lecture on the menstrual cycle by Christos Coutifaris, MD, PhD
, chief of Reproductive Endocrinology. "It's more of an informal talk and the girls love it. Each session, he's voted their favorite lecturer!"
Some of the more than 100 girls who have participated in the program come back for internships in the laboratory during the summer. One student who spent three summers at the lab was recently accepted as a seven-year medical student at Drexel. Other program participants have received scholarships to college. "The girls are all extremely motivated," Mainigi said, noting that she is 'Facebook' friends with several girls who have been part of the program so she can follow their progress.
The program receives funding from the National Institutes of Health but a recent Penn Medicine CAREs grant will be put towards purchasing additional laboratory supplies, SEPTA tokens, and other program materials.
"We want to give these girls ideas about a career that maybe they weren't thinking about before," Mainigi said. "And even if they don't go into a health-care career, they know more about their bodies. and that's steps ahead of where they were when they first came."
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