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Ninjas of the Drill: STEM Outreach Stokes Girls' Interest in Engineering and Orthopedics

Three female high school students in scrubs and googles drill into an artificial bones.
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Kansas City, Mo. – When Dr. Jenni Buckley demonstrates how to fix a broken femur bone with an external fixator and power tools for a group of high school girls, she tells them that they too can be a ninja of the drill.

“Sometimes girls are really at a disadvantage in terms of how much exposure they’ve had to hands on activities,” said Buckley, a mechanical engineer and the co-founder of The Perry Initiative, a non-profit which hosts free, day-long programs with mock surgical scenarios in hopes of getting girls in high school interested in orthopedics and engineering.

“Fortunately it doesn’t take very long with bright kids to fix that. So, you just show them some things you can do with your hands, give them some power tools, say ‘go to it,’ and they can gain that confidence pretty quickly and make up for a lot of lost ground.”

The Perry Initiative treated 38 local young women in grades 10 and up to a morning of drilling and sawing into bone models, suturing lacerations and inserting screws and rods on a model spine to simulate the surgery used to treat scoliosis on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013.

The KC STEM Alliance has sponsored The Perry Initiative’s outreach in Kansas City for the past three years.

“Medical schools nowadays are greater than 50 percent women, but engineering schools still have very low numbers [of women], and there are certain disciplines within medicine where women are underrepresented,” Buckley said. “So our whole goal here is to show these girls that engineering and medicine are related and that these are hands-on fields.” 

So far, the program visits around 30 cities a year and reaches about 1,200 girls.

“The goal for our organization over the next five years is to get to a point where every girl in the U.S. can reach a Perry program within a two to three hour drive,”Buckley said.

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