WISMAC teaches high school girls about new careers in science

The number of careers in the basic sciences and medicine is expanding, and a UT Southwestern program revealed the wide spectrum of choices in biological science and medicine to a group of more than 50 female students from 35 local high schools.

The April 18 program was sponsored by the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee (WISMAC) and the Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern (STARS).

The day-long STARS Symposium on Women in Science and Medicine featured women scientists, clinicians, students and their teachers, and allied health professionals, all of whom offered insight into the paths they took to achieve their goals of entering the health-care and research professions. This is the second time the symposium has been offered.

"As scientists and physicians, these sorts of programs are important because we want to encourage the young people that are following in our footsteps," said Dr. George Ordway, director of the STARS program and professor of physiology.

The symposium focuses on young women from public and private schools handpicked to attend by their science teachers. The speakers included basic and clinical faculty, the dean of the graduate school, associate deans of medical student affairs and the Medical Scientist Training Program, the chair of physical therapy from UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School and student representatives from all of those programs. They described their roles as students and faculty within research and health care, and answered questions posed by the students.

At the end of the day, a panel discussion was held, featuring Dr. Carole Mendelson, professor of biochemistry and co-chair of WISMAC, Dr. Susanna Parker, associate dean of the Office of Student Affairs and current students Nikki Reading, Eileen Foy and Joni Bhutra. Topics ranged from balancing family and career to housing and cost of education.

According to Dr. Mendelson, the symposium is an excellent way for young women to learn about the various professions that a medical center like UT Southwestern can offer.

"This is a great opportunity for high-school students to gain insight into the career opportunities in basic research and the health professions," Dr. Mendelson said. "Not only does faculty participate, but the high-school students have the chance to interact with current UT Southwestern female students, who can tell them what they need to do to get ready to apply for these programs. Because UT Southwestern has so many outstanding degree programs in a variety of areas, the participants leave the symposium with a lot of information on career options and choices in basic science and health care."

WISMAC is a standing committee composed of appointed representatives of the faculty, staff, fellows and student body. Its goal is to promote representation and recognition for women in all campus activities.

The STARS program was developed in 1991 to improve the quality of science education in North Central Texas. Its goals are to increase science awareness, stimulate an appreciation of health-related careers, provide ongoing support for high school science teachers and students, and improve science education by broadening the knowledge base of teachers and assist science education by providing instructional aids.