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Northwestern scientist gets mentoring award at White House

CHICAGO --- Teresa Woodruff, the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring at the White House from President Barack Obama Monday, Dec. 12.

The award was for a Northwestern Medicine program called the Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond. The program mentors urban minority high-school girls for college and careers in science and health.

"Meeting President Obama in the Oval Office was a true honor and humbling event," said Woodruff, also director of the Institute for Women's Health Research. "In his remarks, the president affirmed his deep commitment to science and engineering and the role that basic science plays in the health of our nation. He made time to congratulate us on our efforts and comment on the critical role that science mentorship plays in the development of the next generation of innovators on whom we count to solve our world's most pressing needs."

"This award is for the hundreds of faculty, staff and students throughout Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital who donate their time to mentorship," Woodruff added. "Our program focuses on the next generation of female leaders. Our goal is to ensure that the future is filled with a diverse group of problem solvers ready to meet the world's challenges."

The Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond (WHSP), a four-year-old program, targets primarily African American and Latina girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in Chicago. The young women can study at four different Northwestern academies: cardiology, physical science, infectious disease and oncofertility. The science program is part of the Institute for Women's Health Research at the Feinberg School.

Carole LaBonne, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at Northwestern and faculty member in the mentoring program, emphasized the importance of increasing the representation of women and minorities in the STEM disciplines.

"The program developed by Dr. Woodruff has had amazing impact and is truly transformative," said LaBonne, a member of Northwestern's diversity committee. "It should be used as a model for how universities across the country can address the pipeline problem by helping to educate and excite students from underrepresented groups about science from an early age."

Of the 90 students who have participated in the Women's Health Science Program from the Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Chicago, 18 are seniors in high school, 70 are attending college and two have received undergraduate degrees. Of those attending college, 51 percent are pursuing science majors.

WSHP has grown beyond Chicago through Woodruff's efforts. Similar informal education programs based on the Chicago model have been running in San Diego, Oregon and Philadelphia. Plans also are underway to expand the program to other Chicago high schools.

Woodruff, a reproductive endocrinologist, researches female reproductive health and infertility and is chief of the division of fertility preservation at the Feinberg School. She also leads the Oncofertility Consortium, a national a team of oncologists, fertility specialists, social scientists, educators and policymakers to translate her research to the clinical care of women who will lose their fertility due to cancer treatment. In addition, she has been an advocate for sex and gender inclusivity and study in basic science, translational studies and clinical trials.

President Obama honored nine individuals and eight organizations as recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

"Through their commitment to education and innovation, these individuals and organizations are playing a crucial role in the development of our 21st century workforce," President Obama said when the award was first announced. "Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude for helping ensure that America remains the global leader in science and engineering for years to come."

The White House award recognizes the crucial role mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering -- particularly those who belong to groups underrepresented in these fields. By offering their expertise and encouragement, mentors help prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers, while ensuring that tomorrow's innovators reflect and benefit from the diverse talent of the United States.

Contact: Marla Paul
Northwestern University

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