WEST LIBERTY — On Thursday night, two University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine students led hands-on STEM activities at West Liberty Elementary's Science Night. 

The students, Jenna Schade and Levi Endelman, are part of the medical student ambassador program. They work on outreach to prospective medical students across the state. But According to Schade, this event was as much about exposure as recruitment. 

"For students this young, we are more focusing on letting them know what is available," Schade said. "We're trying to teach kids about the activities that we have available. More than anything, we are trying to get students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

"Essentially we will be showing demonstrations to get (students) interested in STEM fields," Endelman said.

They introduced students to plastinated organs. These organs were donated to science and had their water and fat replaced by plastics. The process ensures that organs can be handled but will not smell or decay. 

"They feel really plastic-y. They almost have a rubbery feeling," Schade said. "When they ask and we tell them that they are the real thing, the kids really freak out."

"We'll have a heart, brain and lungs," Endelman said. "We'll let students handle the specimens so they can get an idea of anatomy of the real thing."

Also at on display was a laparoscopic trainer. The box is used by surgeons to sharpen their dexterity in preparation for laparoscopic surgeries. 

"It's a box with little pincers inside that we hook up to a webcam and a laptop we have," Schade said. "They use the pincers to perform little activities like putting little beads on pegs. It gives them an idea of what the minimally invasive surgeries require of surgeons."

"The trainer mimics the process for the students and helps illustrate what a surgeon is dealing with during surgery," Endelman said. "It gives them an idea of what a three (dimensional) environment looks like on a two (dimensional) computer screen."

Both Schade and Endelman said that the exposure to aspects of the medical field early is important if the goal is to increase achievement in STEM fields like medicine. 

"It gives them a practical idea and tangible actions to see what it takes to go into a particular field in medicine," Schade said. "It gives them a practical idea of what opportunities are available in the field of science and medicine."

"Our goal is just to present this as an option in stem for students," Endelman said. "To help them figure out what they are and are not interested in. I feel like these exposures help students figure out in a more real way what their decisions could be."

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