UVA’s School of Engineering, School of Education and Robertson Media Studio partnered with Charlottesville Women in Tech to conduct the 9th annual bio-med tech-girls program.

The University of Virginia welcomed 13 young women from six area high schools to the 9th annual Bio-Med Tech-Girls program, August 8-12 on UVA Grounds. The students tackled patient care design challenges focused on autism and diabetes through an intensive learning experience involving robotics, computer science, biomedical engineering and computer-aided design.

“We use hands-on experiences to empower our learners with skills so they can address the real issues facing patients in our community,” said David Chen, director of the UVA-Coulter Translational Partnership within the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

To kick off the week, the Tech-Girls explored the world of surgical robotics with Homa Alemzadeh, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and Link Lab member who also holds a courtesy appointment in computer science. Alemzadeh introduced the students to cyber-physical systems, a research strength of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, applied to robotic surgery research. Members of Alemzadeh's research group led hands-on activities in which the students learned how to manipulate and program a robotic arm while Kim Wilkens, Tech-Girls founder and Curry School Ph.D. student, helped the students use a kit to create a robot assistant. 

Meara Habashi, UVA Engineering Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, shared her experience and answered questions about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman working in STEM-related fields. Habashi working through scenarios and offered advice on how to use humor and interpersonal communication skills to address and overcome gender obstacles. 

Mid-week, the students dove deeper into the design challenge, to address problems faced by inidividuals living with diabetes through a combination of lab tours, hands-on activities and Q&A with guest speakers. The students brainstormed ideas and worked on empathy maps and need statements, all part of the design thinking process. They became familiar with virtual reality equipment and 3D design tools in the Robertson Media Center and built a prototype solution in the School of Education Design Lab

The week concluded with a demo party and open house in the Design Lab in Ridley Hall, when the students presented what they created.