Summer Bridge provides rich and inspiring experience for aspiring women scientists
There was no fishing from the Summer Bridge or dangling one’s feet into the drifting current on a warm sunny day.
Summer Bridge 2016 did, however, provide challenging and enlightening field experiences, lab experiments and professional encounters for almost 70 high school-aged women from across Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region.
From July 10-15, the Summer Bridge Program, hosted by Radford University’s College of Science and Technology, held its 11th session to explore science and technology and the first based out of its new Center for the Sciences.
For example, students in the Genes, Molecules and Medicine track took to the field for a behind-the-scenes look at the sprawling Radford Army Ammunition plant, courtesy of plant contractor BAE Systems. On the same day, they toured the lab and production facilities at Salem’s Novozymes Biologicals. The field trips complemented the team’s week-long introduction to the contemporary applications of biology and chemistry.
In addition to learning and working with Radford faculty and students, the Summer Bridge students networked with women in the science and technology fields.
Kim Meuer, a BAE Systems’ nitroglycerine production manager, was one of many women working in science and technology fields who emphasized the value of a STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics-Health) education.
“Both my parents were engineers, so I grew up surrounded by science,” Meuer said. “I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the opportunities with these young women today and give them all a chance to see what’s possible. Because you never know where your career can take you.”
Representatives of Kollmorgen, Tork Robotics and the FBI also briefed the students about the potentials and the paths open to them with strong STEM-H backgrounds.
Dr. Brenda May, a minimally invasive robot gynecology cancer surgeon at LewisGale Medical Center, recounted her challenging, non-traditional path toward a medical career on the cutting edge. She told of accompanying her brother on an emergency room visit that pointed the way to her current career using robotic surgery to perform cancer surgeries.
“I got to look through a window into the human body,” she said. “I have never gotten over that curiosity. I was really determined.”
May was accompanied on her visit to Summer Bridge by a da Vinci XI Surgical System that enables surgeons to operate through small incisions with a magnified 3D high-definition vision system and tiny, flexible wristed instruments. Many of the Summer Bridge students hope to go into medicine, so they tried the system that LewisGale uses for a variety of surgeries. They also inundated Dr. May with questions about her field, preparation for medical school and work-life balance.
“Your adversities,” May said as she talked of her career path and her work, “they are the things that will define you.”
A forensic sciences and cyberdefense exercise combining cyber criminals, emergency management and crime scene protocols at the city of Radford Public Safety building took some students into the field as did a trip to Mountain Lake where others sampled the work that goes on in earth sciences and geo-engineering.
Students in the Bots and Bits track explored electronics, robotics, mathematics and physics. In the process, they prototyped a suit for the latest movie super heroine, the Iron Maiden.
Mathematics and Statistics Instructor Brenda Hastings, now in her fifth year as Summer Bridge faculty with Professor of Physics Rhett Herman, marveled at the students’ commitment to their projects, saying: “We had to force them to leave the lab and go to dinner. They were determined to get it working and solve the problems that were slowing them down.”
Faith Nicholson joined daughter Samantha, a sophomore from Chincoteague High School, for the Summer Bridge’s final day. Faith reflected on her daughter’s experience.
“She has learned so much and wants more knowledge now in a field that I don’t think she knew much about,” she said. “I think my shopping for Christmas and birthday presents will be different now as she has asked for the kind of equipment that she has been working with this week.”
Joseph Antolin coordinated the Summer Bridge camp experience for five Tidewater-area high school students, including his niece.
“There is quite an opportunity for young people today in the hard sciences,” said the father of two daughters who are working now in the engineering fields. “From top to bottom, the Summer Bridge has been excellent.”
The 2016 Summer Bridge class was fully supported with scholarships provided by the following Summer Bridge partners:
• Areva Nuclear Power
• BAE Systems
• Drs. Cliff and Donna Boyd
• Jessie Ball duPont Fund
• Ms. Dale Parris
• Lynchburg Community Trust
• Novozymes Biologicals
• Project Discovery
• Harry and Zoe Poole Foundation
• Upward Bound Martinsville