Three Recent High School Graduates Expand Biomedical Research Opportunities for Young Women
At age 18, Palos Verdes High School graduate Abigail Maemoto has already raised $85,000 for lymphoblastic leukemia research, published a children’s book called What is So Special About an Unspecialized Cell? and was named one of the Top 5 biomedical research and development scholars by the Southern California Biomedical Council. Yet Abigail recognizes the uphill battle females still face in STEM careers.
“Studies reveal that female science researchers earn $10,000 less annually and receive less than 50% in grant allocations compared to their male counterparts,” she shares. “I want to find a way to keep doors open to all students, regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.”
“We jumped at the opportunity to tie together our passions and help a larger community of students,” says Melissa. Together, the three young women committed themselves to connecting young girls and underrepresented minorities with the best minds in biomedical research in order to redefine equity and opportunity in the male-dominated field of biomedicine.
“BiomediGirls wants to close the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” Amy explains. “We’re doing it by exposing young female students to free educational programs, raising awareness about the inequities women and minorities face in the research space through podcasts, and providing scholarships to local, underserved female high school students.”
“We initially wanted to do an in-person, hands-on summer course with elementary and middle school students. We had to completely change our course of action.”
In 2019 BiomediGirls began planning research programs and a lecture series. Just two weeks later, the pandemic hit. “We initially wanted to do an in-person, hands-on summer course with elementary and middle school students,” Abigail recalls. “We had to completely change our course of action.”
The young team pivoted to using social media and Zoom and created a virtual six-week summer course, Introduction to Biomedical Research. More than 100 students worldwide signed up to research cancer, diabetes, neuroscience, immunology and regenerative medicine with professors from Brown, Yale, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
The interactive program enabled students to engage in group research projects and compete for prize money that would fund their future research. Going virtual made their local plan a global one and launched BiomediGirls as a resource for young girls from all over the world.
“Through our webinar series Advocacy in Science, participants were able to learn from and interact with California state treasurer Fiona Ma and university professors from leading colleges such as Stanford and Columbia,” says Amy. BiomediGirls even partnered with the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program at the University of Southern California, which granted stem cell research scholarships to four female high school students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
In the last two years, BiomediGirls clubs have sprung up across the United States, Canada and India. The team has also expanded with a podcast, newsletter and website. Former BiomediGirls student Camila Jongsma shares, “I had a very positive experience in the program, which stemmed from the courses’ focus on many cutting-edge treatment opportunities and research methods. I think that access to programs like these are very important to allow driven students to reach a deeper level of understanding in a multitude of subjects.”
“Be proactive and reach out to as many laboratories, professors and internships as you can,” Melissa advises young researchers. “Show interest in their work and provide your resume and experience. You will, without a doubt, receive lots of rejections and disappointing results, but as long as you get one positive response, you’re on your way to where you want to be.”