Local Professionals Inspire Female High School Students to Pursue STEM Careers at “STEM Goes Red” Event


Dr. Lucy Liaw, a Faculty Scientist in the Center for Molecular Medicine at Maine Medical Center Research Institute, brought the students into her lab to show them how laboratory science supports medical discoveries.
Forty five female students from Deering, Casco Bay, and South Portland high schools participated in the American Heart Association’s STEM Goes Red event on December 5th at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute. The goal of this new Association initiative is to close the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields and to inspire students to become advocates for women’s heart and brain health – and to perhaps pursue careers in research and cardiology.


Meagan Letellier, a Senior Paramedic and Field Trainer with the Portland Fire Department, demonstrated how technology is used to save lives.

Many of these students were not aware of STEM study-track possibilities like Adokorac Oryem of South Portland High School.  “There aren’t many women in STEM, and the only ones who are had to overcome their individual problems to get where they are (as well as doubt from others – and self-doubt),” said Oryem.


According to the Association, women are grossly underrepresented in research and STEM fields. Women occupy nearly half of all U.S. jobs, but less than 25 percent of jobs in STEM fields.  Only about 20 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees are earned by women. Only three out of 100 female bachelor’s degree students continue to work in STEM fields after graduating. What’s more, clinical trials have not always adequately enrolled women or analyzed gender-specific differences in the data. 

Jamie Clisham, Vice President of Customer Experience at WEX, has an engineering background and shared her early struggles in high school.


“I want to help others. I think it’s cool and amazing to see changes that happen through science,” said Joana Izabayo of Casco Bay High School. “I would consider pursuing STEM studies because I found most of the medical topics exciting. There needs to be more awareness about women’s heart health and how we can all take care of our hearts,” said Angelina DeAza of Deering High School.


The students also learned valuable lessons about women’s heart health and how heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women as these two South Portland High School students commented. “Women are at great risk and there needs to be more research about heart health,” said Lauren Allen. “I was super surprised about how many women have heart problems. I definitely didn’t

know how big an issue it was,” said Rachel Kingsley.


Dr. Lucy Liaw, a Faculty Scientist in the Center for Molecular Medicine at Maine Medical Center Research Institute, kicked off the morning with an interactive session. She asked the students to identify STEM careers and what barriers they think exist for women to enter those careers. Liaw runs a biomedical research laboratory at Maine Medical Center focused on cardiovascular disease. She is also involved in training of the next generation of scientists and promotes educational opportunities for students to experience research. She brought the students into the lab to show them how laboratory science supports medical discoveries. Students learned how disease-causing genes or novel therapies can be studied in the lab to determine their potential as targets for human therapies.


Dr. Alicia Wilcox, who teaches criminal justice and forensic science at Husson University and is a Certified Law Enforcement Instructor at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, then delivered the morning’s keynote address.  She discussed the process for deciding on her career and how she had to battle expectations and self-doubt along that journey.


Students then participated in four energizing and interactive sessions with local research scientists, an engineer, a company vice president, and a paramedic. During lunch, they heard from Dr. Alexa Craig, a Neonatal Neurologist and Clinical Scientist at Maine Medical Partners Pediatric Neurology. She focused on using therapeutic hypothermia in the treatment of newborns and described a teleconsulting service she created to evaluate infants for this treatment to reach hospitals across Maine. Students were fascinated to learn how this technology is saving the youngest of lives.


Erin Austin is a Maine-based engineer who serves as the Regional Network Deployment & Operations Lead at Google Fiber. She presented her past job experiences in the telecommunications industry that also align with the ever-changing technology of fiber optics – the lifeline connection for any student who uses a computer or phone. Austin discussed the challenges of working with cities and municipalities when developing long-term plans for cable optics.


Jamie Clisham of shared the difficult route she faced in high school but persevered with hard work and determination. After several careers in engineering that also included working in a paper mill, she landed at WEX as the Vice President of Customer Experience where she is responsible for the pricing and profitability strategy for the company’s North American fleet operations. Her presentation outlined the needs of computer program and engineering at WEX when customer credit cards are compromised.


Meagan Letellier is a Senior Paramedic and Field Trainer with the Portland Fire Department. She also works as a community outreach medic for the Oxford Street homeless shelter and previously worked for 6 years on the Special Reaction Team (Portland’s swat team.) She demonstrated how technology is used to save lives by sharing how Hands-Only CPR techniques and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are used out in public by bystanders and by EMTs and Paramedics. Students had an opportunity to practice chest compressions as part of this session.


STEM Goes Red sponsors included: Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, WEX, Unum, and Mainebiz.

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