On December 5th, fifty female students from Deering, Portland, and South Portland high schools participated in the American Heart Association’s 2nd annual STEM Goes Red event at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute. The goal of this 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.
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.
The students learned valuable lessons about women’s heart health and how heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women. Ashley Deeb, a survivor of a congenital heart defect not discovered until she was an adult, told her inspiring story.
“Chances are if you are a young person experiencing any sort of heart symptoms, you are likely suffering in silence,” said Deeb. “I wish that growing up I would have known that there was nothing wrong with me and the reason I couldn’t physically keep up was not my fault. Although I knew to listen to my body, I was still too afraid and embarrassed to speak up. I urge you to do yourself a favor and talk with your doctor. Today, you have learned about heart and stroke statistics, and the education, advocacy, and research of the Association without which, I more than likely would not be here.”
“Ashley Deeb’s story made me believe that everyone has hope – and people to support you,” said Amran Mohmamed of Portland High School.
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. 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 and her current work centered around how fat tissue impacts the cardiovascular system.
“This was the first time I got to see a real lab and Dr. Liaw’s was super cool,” said Bailey Towle of South Portland High School.
“I learned a lot and this re-lit my passion for science,” commented Sophie Delenich, a South Portland High School student who experienced hands-on STEM demonstrations from doctors, researchers, engineers, and business leaders during this event featuring:
• Karen Andreasen, Assistant Vice President of Worksite with Guardian, who discussed career counseling.
• Jessica Freedman, Manager of Diagnostic Services: MaineHealth Cardiology, who talked about cardiology careers and provided hands-on demonstrations of ultrasound technology.
• Anne Gale, Senior Web Developer at WEX, who demonstrated the back end of how websites are built and how companies can be found easier through web searches.
• Dr. Nadi Nina Kaonga, an OB-GYN resident at Maine Medical Center, who shared her experience as a first-generation Mainer starting her medical career.
• Sherri Parks, Vice President of Information Technology at UNUM, who showed how technology is used in business.
During the lunchtime program, Dr. Alexa Craig: Neonatal Neurologist and Clinical Scientist at Maine Medical Partners Pediatric Neurology talked about pediatric cardiology research. She discussed how therapeutic hypothermia is used to treat 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.
The Association’s STEM Goes Red experience is designed to help young Maine women discover their futures – and perhaps one day propel them into research, cardiology, and heart-health careers. STEM Goes Red sponsors included: Guardian; Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Unum and WEX.