DMU Students Lead Girls’ Exploration of Medicine and Science

Telling girls they can be doctors and scientists is important, but empowering them to do science has an even greater impact. That’s what 115 Des Moines University students, faculty and staff did on a recent Saturday during the university’s annual Girls Exploring Medicine and Science.

DMU hosted 120 girls in fourth through seventh grades at this year’s GEMS, organized by the community relations department and DMU’s Women’s Medical Alliance. Participants rotated through 16 stations for hands-on activities such as using ultrasound and simulation technology, scrubbing into the operating room, casting their feet, analyzing the DNA of oranges and learning about human anatomy, nutrition and many other topics in health and science.

This year’s program, which is free to participants, was supported in part by a grant from the BWA Foundation, which was created in the late 1800s by a group of women who wanted to provide a safe, educational home for young women to learn and prosper in Des Moines. Today, the group awards grants, through an application process, to entities that benefit women and children in Polk County, Iowa.

BWA Foundation members Martha Davis and Mary O’Brien talk with GEMS participants. At right is Sara Sinno, president of the Women’s Medical Alliance.

BWA Foundation members Mary O’Brien and Martha Davis were invited to attend GEMS by Sue Huppert, DMU’s chief external and governmental affairs officer. O’Brien, a former cardiology and air-transport nurse, told the girls she got hooked on science after dissecting a cow’s heart in high school. Davis briefly explained why the foundation chose to support the event.

“We were grateful for the invitation [to GEMS], as we like to see our grants in action,” she said after the event. “We felt inspired by seeing all the young girls ready to explore medicine and science.”

Sara Sinno, D.O.’25, president of the DMU Women’s Medical Alliance, got involved in the organization because of how important female mentorship has been in her life.

“Seeing the girls at GEMS excited about science and having fun with their student leaders reminded me of how life-changing meaningful mentorship can be,” she says. “My favorite part of the event was walking around and hearing the girls tell their leaders, ‘I want to do this every week!’ or ‘I’m good at this!’ Overall, it was amazing to see how GEMS empowered girls to pursue their passions, explore new areas of interest and build confidence.”

GEMS participants used a variety of medical equipment and technology during the event, from microscopes and ultrasound to assistive devices.

High energy and enthusiasm were palpable during GEMS among the girls, their parents and the DMU students and employees. The university is an ideal setting for the event, given nearly 55 percent of all DMU students are women.

One parent shared feedback and gratitude for “the loads of preparation and coordination” required in planning and hosting the event.

“My daughters and niece have thoroughly enjoyed their experiences with GEMS. Please let all of your wonderful students know what a fantastic job they did, too,” the parent commented. “[Their] enthusiasm is contagious and a great way to get youth excited about science!”

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