Ten fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade Girl Scouts enter the Bako Classroom in DMU’s Student Education Center in a flurry of chatter, coats and props, including costumes, crutches and a cardboard desk. After giggles erupt when the oversized scrub pants on one girl fall to her ankles, it’s rehearsal time for a skit the girls created for the Dec. 1 regional qualifier for the annual FIRST Lego League competition. Their audience is a group of DMU podiatric medical students who, with team coach Bob Shoemaker, a retired engineer, have become the girls’ mentors.
“Welcome to Dr. Leslie’s office. She is a podiatrist who specializes in diabetes,” announces Jasmine. White-coated Leslie then sees three “patients,” girls depicting older women with foot problems.
“My feet are killing me! It feels like pins and needles all over,” bemoans the first.
“After three ankle sprains, four stretches and five tears in my leg, on top of diabetes, my feet are in rough shape,” complains the next.
“My mom has Type 2 diabetes and arthritis in her feet and ankles. She’s in a lot of pain,” says the next.
The issue among all three is familiar to podiatric physicians: When advised by Dr. Leslie to wear foot-friendly shoes, the patients refuse. “Those shoes are hideous!” cries one. “Ewww!” bellows another.
Coming up with an answer to this problem fits the theme of this year’s FIRST Lego League competition, “Senior Solutions.” Teams compete in a Lego robot game and also create a project – such as a skit or speech – designed to improve the quality of life for seniors. To define their project, the girls – the “Dotted Ladybugs” – interviewed older family members and friends about what bothers them most.
“They came up with 17 ideas, then narrowed them down to two – the rising costs of health care, and that old people’s feet hurt a lot,” Shoemaker says. The girls voted to tackle the latter. Jasmine, whose grandfather is diabetic, knew about DMU’s College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery and Foot and Ankle clinic; she contacted Diane Marshall, C.M.A., Foot and Ankle practice manager, who connected them to members of DMU’s American Association for Women Podiatrists (AAWP). The Girl Scout group came to the clinic for a tour on Nov. 7 and then began meeting twice a week with the DMU students.
“We talked about reasons why seniors’ feet hurt – for many, it’s due to arthritis or diabetes,” says Alison D’Andelet, D.P.M.’15, AAWP president. “I told them one of the best things you can do is wear the right shoes. The problem is women may view those shoes as ugly and won’t wear them. The girls decided their project would be to make diabetic shoes that are pretty.”
The Ladybugs’ new knowledge and hard work paid off: At the Dec. 1 qualifier, they were one of five teams, among the 25 teams that competed, selected to go on to the state competition. More important, though, are the larger life lessons they had gained: Admitting their teamwork effort “had its ups and downs,” they said they coped by compromising and working together.
“And on one down day, we went home and slept on it,” one girl sagely added.
While the DMU students enjoy feeling like rock stars to the Girl Scouts, their greater hope is that the girls get excited about science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
“This is our opportunity to be role models,” D’Andelet says. “And they’re good kids, so smart and energetic. I’m so impressed by what they’ve done.”