High school students bone up on science

October 15, 2012 2:00 PM

Johanna Gretschel

The enthusiastic banter of 32 scrubs-wearing high school girls is barely audible over the din of whirring power tools. While using bone models to assess the best methods to repair fractures, the teenagers exchange advice about studying for advanced placement tests in biology.

Tulane professor of practice Annette Oertling works with high school students.

Annette Oertling, right, professor of practice and assistant dean for K-12 Outreach in the Tulane School of Science and Engineering, shows girls from New Orleans area high schools how to a repair a tibia fracture using an anatomical model. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber)

Tulane faculty members and graduate students from the School of Science and Engineering volunteered their time to work with the girls during the Perry Initiative event at the Boggs Center for Energy and Biotechnology on the Tulane campus on Oct. 6. Representatives from the Tulane Biomedical Engineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Physics and Engineering Physics Departments assisted with the sessions.

The program agenda included lectures from surgery and engineering faculty and workshops, where, among other exercises, the girls used power tools to practice fixing fractured bones using internal rods.

“I knew I wanted to do surgery. But now I really know I want to do it,” said Ciana Steele, a senior from Destrehan, La.

Jenni Buckley, a mechanical engineer, founded the nonprofit Perry Initiative in 2009 with Dr. Lisa Lattanaza, an orthopedic surgeon, to encourage high school girls to enter the female-deficient fields of mechanical engineering and orthopedics.

Despite record numbers of female students entering medical and graduate school, only 12 percent of academic faculty in orthopedics and 7 percent of practicing orthopedic surgeons are women, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Within university engineering programs, only 11 percent of faculty is female. The numbers are even lower for mechanical engineering.

“Orthopedic surgery historically been seen as an ex-jock career because of the physicality of the injuries and the restoration process,” said Kristen Coakley, Perry Initiative program coordinator. “There’s a stereotype that because women are smaller, they won’t be able to handle the power tools, which is really not true, especially due to advanced technology.”

Johanna Gretschel received a bachelor’s degree with an English major from Tulane in 2012, and she is in the master’s degree program.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu