Pay it Forward: Inspiring High School Girls to Pursue Careers in the Biomedical Sciences

Go Girls Program Participants in the Lab
June 17, 2014

“We were inspired in our own careers by female scientists and gained confidence from working in the lab. We thought this would be a good way to pay it forward,” said Dr.Tracey Nickola, faculty member and participating co-founder of the GO GIRL program.

The GO GIRL (Genomic Opportunities for Girls In Research Labs) educational outreach program, recently held on campus June 17-20, 2014, is designed to provide hands-on laboratory experience in molecular biology and genomics to rising 10th, 11th and 12th grade young women enrolled in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). The girls have the opportunity to explore laboratory techniques commonly used in forensic and research laboratories using state-of-the-art research facilities at The George Washington University Virginia Science and Technology Campus (GW-VSTC). This four-day summer program began in 2009 and is a joint effort between Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy (BJDSOP) and GW, and is funded by a grant to LCPS from Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

Drs. Amanda Munson and Tracey Nickola, as well as Nancy Skacel, a former faculty member, started the program to inspire high school girls to pursue careers in the biomedical sciences. “There are a disproportionately lower number of girls in the sciences. An equal number of girls and boys might enter the biological sciences, but women tend to drop out of that pipeline a lot sooner. The pressures of working in industry and in academia, combined with the desire to have a family, seem to be part of the reason that a lot of women drop out of science,” said Dr. Munson.

The program participants have multiple opportunities for mentorship, including:

  • Interactions with the female scientist/professors associated with BJDSOP and GW;
  • Attendance at daily ‘lunch and learn’ sessions where female professionals in the biomedical sciences talk with the girls about their professions and what it’s like to be a female in that field;
  • Conversations with the female undergraduate and pharmacy students from GW and BJDSOP, respectively, who are serving as assistants in the laboratory.

The program has had a positive impact on former GO GIRL participants, including:

  • Acceptance into the Governors’ School Programs;
  • Declaring STEM majors in college;
  • Working with the GO GIRL professors to gather data for the LCPS science and engineering fair (several have placed and received honorable mentions);
  • Shadowing lunch and learn contributors;
  • Serving as student mentors in future GO GIRL sessions;
  • Applying to BJDSOP’s pharmacy program. 

More information about the program can be found in Drs. Munson and Nickola’s recently published peer-reviewed manuscript highlighting the development, design and success of the program. They were also interviewed for a feature article by GetSynBio—an international online source featuring articles about what’s new and cool in the scientific world.