Program opens girls' eyes to science

Chicago Tribune covers the 2010 Oncofertility Saturday Academy


March 17, 2010


After Keisha Barreto saw many of her relatives suffer serious health issues, she knew she wanted to be a doctor.

"My mother has diabetes, my uncle died from heart problems and there is cancer in my family," said Barreto, a high school junior. "If there's anything I can do to help them and others maintain a healthy lifestyle, that's my ultimate goal in life.

The 16-year-old is one of 32 girls from the Young Women's Leadership Charter High School who participated in the Oncofertility Saturday Academy at Northwestern UniversityFeinberg School of Medicine. The program explores reproductive science, cancer biology and oncofertility, which examines fertility options in cancer patients.

The 12-week program is run by the Institute for Women's Health Research at the medical school and aims to inspire girls to pursue careers in science and medicine, said Megan Faurot, director of the program.

The first year of the program is research-based, and the students learn the basics of oncofertility from scientists, physicians and medical students participating in the program, Faurot said. The second year is mostly clinical. Barreto, for example, has studied reproductive cells of mice in the lab and has fertilized mice eggs.

She also has encouraged her younger peers at school.

"I've given presentations to sophomores who are interested in getting into the program. I've shown them how to fertilize frog eggs," she said.

When the program started four years ago, it had 16 juniors; it has expanded to include 16 seniors and has become a two-year program, said Melissa Resh, partnership coordinator at the high school on the South Side. In addition to attending the eight-hour Saturday sessions, participants must attend a two-hour after-school workshop.

Faurot said that all 32 girls who completed the two-year-program have gone to college and that 28 have stayed in the medical or science field.

Nyomi Kivenas, a junior, was torn between a career in criminal justice and medicine. Once she joined the program, she found she didn't have to choose: "I can combine both fields and become a forensic scientist," said Kivenas, 17.

Senior Geeleeyaw Moore has loved animals since she was a little girl. Whenever she takes her Doberman pinscher, Payton, to the veterinarian's office, she picks the doctor's brain and soaks up all the knowledge she can. She wants to follow in the vet's footsteps.

"I just love taking care of animals and helping them stay healthy. When I take her to the vet, I always offer to volunteer," said Moore, 17, who received her graduate certificate from the oncofertility program last week. She has applied to several colleges and hopes to be accepted by Delaware State University. "I've learned so much in the program, especially during the clinical part. I've taken EKGs, blood pressure and checked DNA from mouse cells. This program is great."

Cardiologist David Montgomery applauds the girls.

"I'm thrilled they're starting their education early by getting the specialized instruction. Our girls and boys should take advantage of all programs that will afford them the tools to get a head start in their professions," said Montgomery.


Oncofertility Consortium


Michigan State University

Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology

965 Wilson Road, Room A626B
East Lansing, MI 48824-1316
Phone: 1 (517) 884 8848


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