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U. mentors give girls a glimpse of science

Med students host 18 middle-schoolers

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As Ha Luong watched her friends poke and prod a pig's lung Saturday morning, she vowed never to eat Jell-O again.

Luong and 17 other junior high school girls camped out in a University of Utah medical school laboratory for "Science Power," an access program for middle school girls that gives them a glimpse at the life of women medical students.

Activities such as Saturday's dissection give girls a reason to pursue science, said Sunny Gibson, program coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach at the medical school. They meet first- and second-year medical students who serve as valuable role models for the budding scientists.

"It's good to see girls who are already in medical school," 14-year-old Cami Sims said. "It's good to talk to them and see what they did to get here."

Sims enthusiastically sliced open her pig's lung and carefully watched as the mentoring second-year med student pointed out different organs.

"I want to be a surgeon," Sims said. "It's just fascinating to see everything."

Dana Gingell, a second-year med student, volunteered with Sims' group.

"I love working with this age of girls," she said. "They're smart and so interested in science. When I was their age, I had no interest in science."

Gingell acknowledged that perhaps she would have had an easier path to medical school if she had a mentoring program such as "Science Power."

"Science Power" meets every few months at the medical school. Gibson invites all girls from area middle school science programs to attend, but attendance usually caps near 20. The program specifically encourages girls who may be interested in medicine but welcomes any who show interest in science. In past years, the medical school has co-sponsored "Science Power" with the College of Engineering or other science departments on campus to give participants more options.

Participants have dissected eyes and hearts, examined blood cells and tissue samplings, dropped eggs in protective cartons from 50 feet, and experimented with catapults and levers.

Luong just hopes future programs don't include dissection — she loves science, but only "anything that doesn't involve blood!"

E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com