5 Questions with ... Allison Roll, spending the summer studying bioengineering
FAIRFIELD — When Allison Roll, 16, starts her junior year at Fairfield Ludlowe High School later this month, she will be armed with a bit more knowledge.
Roll was part of an inaugural group of girls who took part in a two-week program at Wheaton College that focused on subjects like biomechanics, tissue engineering, pharmacology and environmental science.
The program was created exclusively for girls, and participants got hands-on experiences that included learning surgical skills.
Roll talked recently about the program.
Q: How did you hear about this program?
A: I received an interesting brochure from EXPLO in the mail, which described in detail the different summer programs taking place at Yale, Wellesley and Wheaton. Immediately I was drawn in by the bold and fascinating courses they provided, and after consulting with one of the program directors, they recommended the Bioengineering for Girls course at Wheaton.
Q: What was a typical day like in the program?
A: It was fast-paced. From the moment we laid foot on campus, we were hitting the ground running. Immediately after breakfast, we headed straight for the classroom, where we learned topics such as biomechanics, pharmacology and anatomy that were supplemented by hands-on experiments. Often this entailed being in the computer lab and examining tissue under microscopes, using electrodes to read the electrical pulses in our own neurons, or dissecting and identifying the different regions of the brain — all before it’s even noon. Some days, we would then see (at least one) guest speaker from vastly different professional backgrounds; one was a highly distinguished female science writer for Scientific American, while another found a way to grow human tissue in a spinach leaf. Then we would move on to the workshop, or “makerspace,” to build our very own prosthetic. Each day was an adventure of its own that provided an exhilarating medley of unique challenges and enriching learning experiences.
Q: What got you interested in bioengineering?
A: Personally, I have always been geared to math and science, though I also see myself as a creative and inventive person. While I love biology and chemistry, I feel that in many ways those disciplines do not allow much room for creativity. This is why bioengineering is so appealing to me: It encompasses possibilities for putting together these disciplines in new ways that can contribute to the greater good on a grand, even global scale. Taking this course broadened my perspective on all the different possibilities that bioengineering creates.
Q: There’s been a big movement to get girls interested in science and technology. Do you think it’s working?
A: Absolutely. I believe that we have come very far in terms of the number of women in STEM fields. Many of our female speakers reported that there are more women in STEM than there have ever been.
However, there is still a tilted playing field, which means that we have a lot of work to do as a society. There has always been more sexism in STEM than in any other field, and to this day women find themselves lacking the confidence to advocate for themselves in times of confrontation.
For this reason, the most truly effective way we can get more women into STEM is by giving them the confidence to trust their own competence.
Q: What would you say to classmates who might find a course on bioengineering a bit intimidating?