Loyola University Chicago

Health Sciences Research


Women in Science group teaches Chicago high schoolers about heart health

Women in Science group teaches Chicago high schoolers about heart health

By Erinn Connor

Loyola University Chicago is leading the way when it comes to getting more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, ranking seventh in female STEM graduates according to data from the Department of Education.

Some female biomedical graduates in the Health Sciences Division are making sure they pay it forward by inspiring and educating high school girls to consider a STEM career as well. The biomedical students participated in a “Go Red Go STEM” event at Northwestern University this fall.

The group was made of members of Loyola’s Women in Science group, founded by immunology graduate students Abby Cannon and Anya Nikolai. Part of the mission of the Women in Science group is to empower young girls to be interested and passionate about science and increase female representation within the field.

“It’s important for me to create environments of strong female leadership, especially in STEM,” says Cannon.

Earlier in the year, Cannon and Nikolai organized the first Science Sisters Day, which brought 30 middle school girls from the Maywood and Broadview communities to the Health Sciences Campus for a day of educational science experiments and learning about women science pioneers.

The Women in Science members know how important it is to get girls interested in science while they’re young.

“Often, science education in schools lack fun experiments because there isn’t enough funding or resources for every student to run the experiment,” says Nikolai. “I think this leads to students thinking science is boring and they fail to learn how incredible imagination and innovation are for science. Our outreach always includes engaging, hands-on experiments so the students are having enough fun so they don’t even notice they are learning.”

For the “Go Red Go STEM” event, they performed small experiments for about 100 Chicago-area junior and senior high school girls during a session they called “One Bite at a Time: Healthy Habits for a Healthy Heart.” Provost Margaret Callahan, CRNA, PhD, FNAP, FAAN, joined the graduate students for the event.

“I’m so proud of these women leaders in our biomedical graduate programs and their passion for science,” says Callahan. “They’re helping to shape the future of women in science.”

Demonstrating that healthy everyday habits lead to long-term heart health, the graduate students had the high schoolers create bacterial plates with swabs from their mouth and swabs from yogurt to show what makes up a healthy gut microbiome.

Christina Cunha, a graduate student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology who volunteered for the event, knows firsthand how important it is to have role models in science growing up.

“I never knew a scientist when I was growing up, nor did I have any female leaders in science reach out to me until college,” says Cunha. “Your high school years can be so formative for your future career path, so I wanted young girls to see that female scientists are cool and fun, and hopefully inspire them to see what a joy it is to work in science every day.”