Delaware Lt. Gov. Matt Denn visits UD to learn more about the Perry Initiative and to promote the role of women in STEM careers.

Taking the initiative

Female students learn about and practice roles of engineers, orthopedic surgeons

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2 p.m., May 24, 2012--Lt. Gov. Matt Denn visited the University of Delaware campus on Saturday, May 19, to see just how assistant professor Jenni Buckley was encouraging high school and early undergraduate female students to pursue careers in orthopedics and engineering.

What he witnessed was a hands-on scientific program held in Spencer Laboratory that enabled participating students to learn how to properly repair a broken leg or torn knee ligament with real orthopedic implants, use real X-rays to identify and correct scoliosis in the spine, and apply surgical stitching techniques to pigs' feet, which closely resemble human skin.

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Denn spoke to the women during their lunch break on the importance of their participation in orthopedics and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Getting women involved in STEM fields has been a challenge,” remarked Denn. “We are trying to get to the students at an earlier age and at least spark some curiosity. Hopefully, this curiosity will carry through to the academic level.”

The program was organized jointly between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Perry Initiative, an outreach program dedicated to stirring interest and inspiring future careers in engineering and orthopedic surgery for high school women across the country.

“This program came about because I love what I do, and I am absolutely puzzled as to why there aren't more women in engineering, particularly disciplines like biomechanics that have immediate societal impact,” said Buckley, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and executive director and co-founder of the Perry Initiative. “We're hoping that with a combination of early exposure, hands-on experience and mentoring, we can inspire more talented women to join us in the field."

Buckley, along with several other female engineering and biomedical faculty members, spoke to the students, giving background information on their fields as well as the academic paths they took to become the professionals they are today. 

More than 25 high school girls participated in the program from area high schools including Conrad Schools of Science, Charter School of Wilmington, Brandywine High School, Padua Academy and Middletown High School. Additional freshmen and sophomores from UD’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering program also attended. 

"I’ve always been interested in pursuing a career in engineering; however, before I decide my major in college I wanted to learn more about what engineers do,” remarked one student. “This program is a great opportunity to meet female engineers and learn about what they actually do on a day to day basis.” 

About the Perry Initiative

Founded in 2009 by Buckley and orthopedic surgeon colleague Lisa Lattanza, the Perry Initiative is named in honor of Jacquelin Perry, one of the first woman orthopedic surgeons in the country and a pioneer in biomechanics research. 

The initiative aims to foster the partnership between engineers and surgeons while simultaneously advocating for increased women’s representation in orthopedics and engineering. 

The Perry Initiative sponsors over 20 one-day outreach programs annually at sites around the country, reaching nearly 900 high school and undergraduate students. The event on campus was sponsored by the Department of Mechanical Engineering with underwriting from Chevron Energy Solutions.

Article by Zac Anderson

Photos by Lane McLaughlin

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