More than 70 young women toured labs, learned laboratory and medical techniques, and met with women in the science and medical fields last month at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

The students, all in bright red T-shirts, spent the day on Virginia Tech’s Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke as part of the American Heart Association’s STEM Goes Red event, which allowed them to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Jessica Pfleger, assistant professor and cardiovascular scientist at the research institute, and Veronica van Montfrans, associate director of Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health graduate program, co-chaired the event designed to help propel young women into STEM careers by providing an insider view of the work and the women who do it.

Of 100 female students working toward a bachelor’s degree, only three will work in a STEM job 10 years after graduation, according to the American Heart Association.

“Any way we can make science — its pursuit and accomplishments — accessible, we expose this as a potential career field for young women,” Van Montfrans said. “And even if they don’t pursue a career in STEM, events like this show these young women it is possible if they want the option.”

“It’s also critical to introduce these students to women currently working in these fields who can serve as their role models and mentors,” Pfleger added.

The students moved in groups through a matrix of hands-on breakout sessions that allowed them to learn lab techniques like pipetting and weighing, practice heart dissection, and operate a robot used in laparoscopic surgery.

The day concluded with a panel discussion on finding careers in STEM fields.

“I was so impressed with the amount of student participation in the mentorship panel,” Pfleger said. “The students asked our panelists questions about their careers, balancing work with other aspects of life, and issues that are specific to women in STEM.”

“Jess and I are both first generation college students,” Van Montfrans said. “And we both said numerous times how we wish we had an experience like this in high school. It was a wonderful feeling to have the students light up with excitement and discovery.”

Students in Pfleger lab
mentoring panel