My Blog Posts

Posted by on July 29, 2009 - 9:01am
OSA students learning laparoscopic techniques

OSA students learning laparoscopic techniques

A priority of the Institute for Women’s Health Research is to develop and deliver educational experiences focused on women’s health for students and professionals at all levels of training and practice.  IWHR has created an innovative educational program call the Women’s Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond (WHSP and Beyond).  The purpose of this program is to prepare and inspire a diverse population of high school girls to become the next generation of women leaders in science and medicine.  Despite many efforts over the last three decades to overcome the gender and racial/ethnic disparities the problem still penetrates our society.  Thus, there is a definite need to continue to invest in the exploration and development of approaches that will once and for all change the face of the science and medical community to include more women and minorities.

WHSP and Beyond consists of four academies – Oncofertility Saturday Academy, Cardiology Summer Academy, Infectious Disease Summer Academy, and the Physical Science Summer Academy.  The notion is to provide multiple opportunities for high school students to explore the basic science research, clinical application and career options of a variety of science disciplines.  The academies offered in WHSP and Beyond share four common overarching goals –
➢    To actively engage high school girls in hands-on laboratory and clinical activities, college level lectures and group projects to learn and apply science concepts and inquiry skills.
➢    To empower high school girls by providing relevant and applicable learning experiences on women’s health topics that they can use to make informed, authoritative decisions about their own personal health and share with their families and communities.
➢    To provide high school girls with exposure and the opportunity to explore the wide variety of academic programs and career options in science and medicine.
➢    To support high school girls during the transition from high school into college with an on-going mentoring network of scientists, clinicians, teachers, alumni and family.

To date there have been 47 high school students who have participated in the Oncofertility Saturday Academy and 14 high school students who have participated in the Cardiology Summer Academy.  The plan is to initiate the other two academies during the summer of 2010.

If we project out to 2020, approximately 650 students will have participated in WHSP and Beyond and the girls from the first cohort of 2007 will be 30 year-old women.  How many of the WHSP and Beyond participants will be on track or have reached their goal of becoming scientists, doctors, or engineers? Does WHSP and Beyond have the potential to change the face of the science community?

Posted by on July 24, 2009 - 3:26pm

This Post written by Victor O'Halloran

Last night was the world premiere of OSA: Sisters In Science, a documentary detailing the Oncofertility Saturday Academy. This documentary told the story of what happens when young women from a small south side Chicago high school get introduced to an emerging science like Oncofertility (for more information, click here).  The film documented the hands-on experiences, classes, and testimonies of the young women of Young Women’s Leadership Charter School as they spent their Saturdays interacting with the Woodruff lab and other resources from Northwestern in 2009.


Photo: Roark Johnson

A very personal story was told about how these high school students, intrepidly took on challenging experiments dissecting mice, ovaries in the uterus, isolating follicles, embedding them in alginate, measuring hormones, fertilizing real mouse eggs, and spending exclusive time on the Da Vinci Surgical Robot.

Most importantly, the documentary chronicled the evolution of the OSA students, from passionate young women in high school waiting to be sparked by inspiration, to JOSAS (Junior OSA Sisters) to SOSAS (Senior OSA Sisters).  It also told the story of these young women’s families and the role this experience had in reaffirming a relationship of empowerment through education.  It was clear that every parent thought their child capable of any achievement, and OSA gave that potential a shape and form that many parents can’t imagine.

Directors of the program, Megan Faurot and Teresa Woodruff held a panel along with the film’s creators; producer Harlan Wallach, director Stefani Foster, and the film’s editor Erin Kitzinger.  The panel was a source of reflection and enthusiasm for the whole audience, including OSA alumni, POSA (Parents in OSA), as well as attendees of the Oncofertility Consortium’s on-going Annual Summit.

“This is a story of expanding horizons…you all have the potential to be the next generation of leaders, of teachers of scientists and creative thinkers. You have the opportunity to pass on to the next generation a world more vibrant, more creative and with more opportunity than the world you inherited.” –From Teresa Woodruff’s opening remarks.

The program is in its third year and is continuing strong.

More information about the Oncofertility Saturday Academy:

Posted by on July 24, 2009 - 11:36am
Sharon Green, Dr. Marie Savard, Susan Scanlan, Sarah Bristol-Gould, and Michelle Desjardins at the luncheon

Sharon Green, Dr. Marie Savard, Susan Scanlan, Sarah Bristol-Gould, and Michelle Desjardins at the luncheon

Yesterday, the Institute for Women’s Health Research co-hosted a luncheon with the Chicago Foundation for Women and the National Council of Women’s Organizations featuring the Pearl of Wisdom™ campaign to promote awareness and prevention of cervical cancer.   Speakers included Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News Medical Contributor; Susan Scanlan, Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations; Michelle Whitlock, Cervical Cancer Survivor and Women’s Health Advocate; and Lanise Sanders, Certified School Nurse in the Chicago Public School system.  The luncheon was extremely well received with many important Chicago organizations in attendance, including Sen. Jacqueline Collins, Rep. Constance Howard, Rep. Mary Flowers, and a representative from Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.  One idea that was stressed by speaker Dr. Savard is that cervical cancer is treatable when detected early with the tools that we have including the Pap test, HPV test, and HPV vaccine.

The vaccine, Gardasil®, has been the subject of controversy since its release in 2006.  Part of the issue is the fact that the vaccine is recommended for girls starting as early as age 9.  Because HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, many parents (who must give consent for the vaccine) are uncomfortable with the suggestion that their young daughters might engage in sexual activity.  While it is unlikely that a 9 year old will be exposed to the virus, it is important that the vaccine is

Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News Medical Contributor

Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News Medical Contributor

administered before sexual activity commences.  The vaccine is meant to protect women who may be exposed to the virus in the future, and realistically, that’s pretty much all of us.

Cervical Cancer Survivor Michelle Whitlock mentioned that at the time of her diagnosis she was not afraid to admit to and talk to friends and peers about her cervical cancer, but she felt ashamed to mention the HPV infection.  Sexually transmitted infections have a stigma; women often feel ashamed and afraid they will be labeled as promiscuous.  The fact is it takes only one sexual encounter to become infected with an HPV virus.  In addition, HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, not just by fluid exchange.  This means that condoms cannot offer complete protection.

So what can we do?  We can talk about it.  We can attempt to remove the stigma and make sure we encourage the women in our lives to get routine Pap tests and HPV tests as necessary.  Early detection is key.

For more information on the Pearl of Wisdom™ campaign, visit their webpage at:

For more information on HPV and the Gardasil® vaccine visit:

To learn about Cervical Cancer visit: