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Building the Pipeline for Women in Engineering and Orthopaedics

Richmond, VA (October 31, 2016)– On Oct. 15, the VCU School of Engineering presented the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first Perry Outreach Program, an event designed to inspire young women to consider opportunities in engineering and orthopaedic surgery.

“Engineering and orthopaedics have traditionally been male-dominated specialties,” said Jennifer Wayne, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering (BME) and host of the event. “We wanted to make a concerted effort to excite women about the fields.”

And that invitation was accepted by thirty-three high school juniors and seniors from Richmond, Chesapeake, Northern Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey who donned blue scrubs and embarked on a full day of hands-on learning about medical devices for orthopaedic applications. The day was organized in collaboration with the Perry Initiative, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to building the pipeline for women in engineering and medicine.

Wayne, Victoria Kuester, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, VCU biomedical engineering students, VCU orthopaedic surgery residents, and Perry Initiative staff facilitated activities including fixation of bone fractures, correction of scoliosis of the spine, artificial knee ligament reconstruction and ankle fracture plating.

“We have a variety of excellent artificial bones in our lab. We broke them, and we fixed them,” Wayne said. “Students learned internal and external fixation techniques, which involved drilling and sawing. For many of them, it was the first time they ever handled those tools.”

Participants also used internal rods to correct a curved spine and had the chance to try their hands at suturing with live tissue. Each module began with an introduction from an expert. The day also included reflections from Perry staff Ana Ebrahimi, Kuester and Wayne who described a day in the life of a biomedical engineer or orthopaedic surgeon and recounted their stories of advancing through their respective fields. The richly varied discussions and activities circled back to one central idea.

“The theme was diversity in the workplace — the importance of diversity in the field, and what it has done to improve the field,” Wayne said.

The second Perry Outreach Project will take place at the VCU School of Engineering in fall 2017.