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May 10, 2022 – DENTON – As a woman working in biomechanics, Texas Woman PhD candidate Noelle Tuttle is dedicated to reaching out and educating more women in the field, especially minorities with little or no exhibited. Thanks to grants from the Biomechanics Initiative, she was able to pursue this mission by co-hosting virtual and in-person events in Denton and Ecuador to inspire future practitioners and researchers.
For the past few years, TWU Biomechanics and Motor Behavior graduate students have participated in National Biomechanics Day (NBD), an annual event aimed at introducing high school students to the field of biomechanics. Biomechanics, the study of mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms, is a relatively new scientific field, so many high school students have not heard of it and do not realize that it is a career option.
In an effort to change that, Tuttle, for the second year in a row, applied for and was awarded a Women’s Biomechanics Outreach Fellowship through National Biomechanics Day to co-host with Rosalind University of Medicine and Science. Franklin (RFUMS) a virtual demonstration of biomechanics in action for Krum High School on April 6th. She purchased and sent supplies for students to participate and also included commemorative items such as TWU and Rosalind Franklin magnets, stickers and promotional materials.
The two-hour event allowed students to interact and learn about levers, center of mass, balance, gait and motion capture. They did a lever scavenger hunt, did yoga, explored TikTok trends and watched a demonstration on the different uses of motion capture equipment.
Overall, 53 students and three professors participated, 66% of them women, according to the survey results. Participants came from all high school grades, with the highest percentage being in their first year. From the event, 95% said they left knowing more about biomechanics and 44% said they would consider a career in biomechanics.
Part of the grant funds will also allow Tuttle to attend the European Society for Biomechanics conference this summer in Portugal.
But Tuttle didn’t stop there. She was able to take her mission internationally this year with an additional LatinX in Biomechanics Awareness thanks to the National Biomechanics Day Grant awarded to TWU Biomechanics alumnus Marco Avalos, MD, PhD’ 20, and her team of Rosalind Franklin. The grant was used to purchase supplies, as well as to cover Tuttle’s travel expenses to Universidad de las Americas (UDLA) in Ecuador, where the event was organized and co-sponsored by TWU and Rosalind Franklin.
Ecuador had never hosted an NBD event, so this was the first event held in the country.
“Biomechanics isn’t well known in the country, so it was important to bring the knowledge of the field to high school kids there,” Tuttle said. “Dr. Avalos is originally from Ecuador, so this was a way for him to bring biomechanics home to also introduce science students to a potential new career.
Over the course of two days, April 13-14, Tuttle and his partners taught 261 high school students and approximately 15 high school teachers, with the help of 20 UDLA physical therapy students and their mentor, Yadira Gordon, the components of speed, gait, balance, center of mass, range of motion and motion capture. Students received a mini-lesson for each topic and then performed a wide range of activities, including walking/running at different paces, walking challenges (tandem walking, eyes closed, head rotation), yoga, TikTok trends and difficult balance challenges, using goniometers and testing for generalized joint laxity and using motion capture cameras and force platforms.
“It was our biggest and best organized event to date,” Tuttle said. “The attendees had a great time and we were able to achieve our goal of getting more high school students interested in a career in biomechanics.”
According to the survey results, 83% of participating students were Latino or Hispanic, 96% said they left knowing more about biomechanics, and 79% said they would consider a future career in biomechanics.
These results are exactly why Tuttle continues to create NBD events, knowing that the hard work will be worth it in the end.
“I’m very passionate about this outreach program because it’s a way to expose students to biomechanics at a younger age, and it’s a great way to reach out to minority groups in the field.” she declared. “This year we were able to work on grants that target young women and members of the LatinX community. These groups are underrepresented in the field of biomechanics, so introducing the subject to high school students allows them to experience an exciting new career option before reaching the latter years of college. I also believe that women bring a different perspective to this male-dominated field and can create exciting new research projects when given the opportunity. My goal is to make sure these young women know there is a place for them in biomechanics, and NBD and TWU give me the platform to spread that message.