This past Saturday, 32 students from the near south side of Chicago were not hanging out at home or at the mall. Instead these juniors and seniors in high school were attending the fifth annual Oncofertility Saturday Academy at Northwestern University. For the next four weeks, these young women will be exposed to different aspects of oncofertility in order to increase their science literacy and instill in them a passion for science.
On Saturday, the junior students, who will spend the month focusing on oncofertility research, performed experiments using fertility preservation techniques in Teresa Woodruff’s laboratory. The senior students began their clinical oncofertility experience learning how to give a pelvic exam and practicing on the same plastic models that medical students use. The Oncofertility Saturday Academy, part of the Women's Health Science Program, also exposes these students, from Young Women’s Leadership Charter School on the near south side of Chicago, to careers in science and medicine. This Saturday, the juniors were paired with Physician Assistant trainees while the seniors learned from medical students. The high school students also listened as Tiffany, a cancer survivor, and her husband discussed their experiences fighting cancer and preserving their ability to have biological children.
The Oncofertility Consortium also provides similar informal education programs in San Diego, Oregon, and, most recently, Philadelphia. This past summer, investigators and clinicians from the University of Pennsylvania started the Pennsylvania Academy for Reproductive Sciences (PARS) to teach 10 high school girls about the research, clinical care, and the bioethics of fertility and cancer.
The Philadelphia group held another session this fall and are preparing for a spring academy, which begins on March 5th. The young women in this program range from freshman to seniors and attend schools throughout the greater Philadelphia region. The girls beginning the PARS program in March will have the opportunity to perform in vitro fertilization of mice eggs, see a working operating room, and even perform a transabdominal obstetrical exam on one of the pregnant facilitators of the program! Over the next few weeks we will continue to update our readers on the national activities of the Oncofertility Saturday Academy.