Category Archives: Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health

From Coding to Dissecting: My First Two Weeks in the BG&R Lab

I have officially finished my first two weeks working with Dr. Kristin Miller and her team at the Biomechanics of Growth and Remodeling lab! The BG&R Lab dedicates its time to researching the tissue within woman’s reproductive system, specifically what mechanical properties factor into the deterioration of strength in the pelvic wall. There are multiple projects within this area of study, specifically two focusing on Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) and Pre-term Birth. There are also projects that focus on tendons in the leg and aortic dissection, which is a tear in the inner lining of the heart that leads to blood leakage. Basically, what the BG&R lab all boils down to is the study of how the extra-cellular matrix (ECM) of tissue reacts to stress and strain.

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Walking into the lab on the first day, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worked in the lab a bit this past semester, but I knew the direction of my responsibilities were more than likely to change come summer. I thought that I would probably be another lab hand, helping with some experiments, making solutions, and reading papers. I was more than surprised when I was told by my supervisor Cassie, a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Tulane, that I would be working on my own project! I have now undertaken the task of writing the code for a new plug-in being used to model the tissue we use in our experiments.

That probably sounds like jibberish to most people, and it did to me too at first. I soon learned that the software we use to model our experimental data is called FEBio and is used for Finite Element Analysis. Finite element analysis (FEA) is a computerized method for predicting how a product reacts to real-world forces, vibration, heat, fluid flow, and other physical effects. (1) This type of analysis allows us to measure how the tissue we work with should react to different stress and strain values placed on it, and whether it will break, bend, stretch and hold its authenticity, or whether it will lose its strength. As a computer science major, I have experience with many different programming languages, including C++ which FEBio is programmed in. I was surprised to find out that I was the only one in the lab with exposure to this language, and that they needed me to decipher their problem of creating a “plug in.” What a plug in does is allow us to model our tissue in FEBio using the parameters that we know through our experimentation affect our material. This comes in the form of an 8-page constitutive model, which is basically just a long and complex equation that models how the tissue behaves. (It’s as scary as you’re thinking it is, don’t worry I’ve included a picture of the first page below). So I was given the project to take this model, take what we know about FEBio, and figure out a way to write this plug in. Once we have a running plug in, we can then use this in our models by selecting on this plug in as our “Material” in the list of parameters, that way when we apply the different values of stress and strain we will be able to see what should happen to the tissue.

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I was extremely excited to learn that I would be undertaking this project, and that everyone was looking forward to seeing what I could come up with. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on me, but it also makes me feel like I am an integral part of the lab, and a true member of the team. To me, this all seems like a big puzzle, but much more complicated because I don’t have all the pieces, so I have to find them. It’s also nice to be able to help others in the lab understand coding and C++, and makes me feel my studying and skills are really paying off. Now I know this may sound extremely boring to some people, and trust me at times it is. I have also had the chance to see other aspects of the lab, such as touring the surgery rooms and observing how the rats are dissected and their tissue is prepared for loading in our biaxial testing machine (Pictured below). I am very excited for the rest of the summer, and to see what I am capable of accomplishing in terms of determining how to write this plug in. I am also anticipating getting to do some hands on work, such as dissections and tissue testing.

I love the possibilities this internship provides, and am glad that I will get to continue this into the school year. In the Biomedical Engineering curriculum, there is a required course called “Research and Professional Practice,” which basically just means working in a lab underneath a professor and taking on your own project within their lab. It is incredible that I have gotten the opportunity to start building a relationship with the members of this lab, and that I will get to continue my project through my junior and senior year in the same lab. I was fortunate that all of the professors in the BME department are very receptive to undergraduate students joining their labs, so this internship opportunity was not too difficult to find. If you are looking for an internship in research, there are so many opportunities at Tulane that you can take advantage of. Just reaching out to a professor you may enjoy learning from, and doing your own investigating into what they study is the first step in this process. I can promise from experience that it pays off, and hopefully it will lead to an incredible opportunity to grow both academically and professionally.

(1) https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/finite-element-analysis

My First Month with NOAF!

Since starting my internship with NOAF, I’ve been most surprised to learn about the facts of reproductive health, rights, and justice. I spent a good amount of time during first two weeks of my internship conducting research about the history of abortion in this country, and I’ve learned that the abortion narratives I grew up hearing are simply unfactual. For instance, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 59% of women receiving an abortion have already had at least one child and 62% are spiritual. Raised in suburban Ohio at an all-girls Catholic high school, I never heard these stories. As it turns out, neither did most of my friends and family. So it’s been fascinating to have these conversations with people I love. Though sorting through decades of misinformation can often be difficult, I’ve found that people are usually willing to talk to me, if only because the information is coming directly from someone they know.

As the weeks have progressed, I’ve moved toward working on NOAF’s first community canvassing project. During the last week in July, we’ll be canvassing the neighborhood surrounding the Women’s Health Care Center – New Orleans’ only abortion clinic. A large chunk of my work for the past two weeks has consisted of meeting with other organizers in Louisiana to explore options and goals for the canvas, setting up organizational details, and publicizing among NOAF members. I’ve also been working as a clinic escort one morning per week in front of the Women’s Health Care Center, ensuring that the space is safe and as comfortable as possible for patients amidst the protesters. On those mornings, I’ve really enjoyed meeting other clinic escorts and hearing their stories.

One piece of advice I’ve received this summer is that, as a mission-driven young person, the best place for me to make an impact on health injustices will change throughout my career. One year I might be working with a non-profit, the next in an elected official’s office, the next with a consulting firm. Therefore, it’s important to me that I gain experiences in multiple professional spaces. My internship with NOAF has allowed me to learn how a local non-profit works, but has also given me the opportunity to meet with and learn from folks working with diverse types of organizations. I’ve met with an organizer from a brand new New Orleans non-profit, talked with a clinic administrator in a more conservative area of the state, and heard from a regional administrator of a large national organization. It’s becoming clear to me that there are thousands of ways to be involved in this work and that the work couldn’t be accomplished without all of them. One thing everyone can do, though, is inform themselves about the facts of reproductive health, rights, and justice. The Guttmacher Institute is a wonderful resource for this. Once you have some facts, you can start conversations. And conversations are a powerful tool for culture change.

Research and writing about STI knowledge

Working with Dr. Alyssa Lederer over the past several weeks has been an incredible opportunity to expand my research skills and explore sexuality health education issues. Our primary project is conducting qualitative research on STI knowledge of college students. Alyssa previously designed an instrument to assess students’ understanding of critical sexuality health information before and after viewing an educational program. A central question of the post evaluation asked about new information students learned from the intervention. The uniqueness of our research stems from the qualitative research design. While the pre and post-test format provides quantitative data about particular items, the open-ended question allows students to delineate information they explicitly learned as a result of the program. I have spent the past few weeks categorizing the data to essentially quantify a qualitative measure.

I am amazed at how much I have learned so far this summer! In addition to learning a new data assessment technique, I have further developed my research presentation skills by refining literature review searches and understanding the somewhat formulaic nature of manuscript writing. I have identified partner sex communication scales that will contribute to the National College Health Assessment survey. While I enjoy the autonomy of the position, I appreciate my weekly meetings with Alyssa to deliberate over details of the research process and discuss interesting findings.

As a rising senior, the end of college is bittersweetly approaching. While my desire to become a physician has not wavered, I hope to explore the health field in the areas of health education and advocacy prior to diving into the medical area. Conducting research on gaps in sexuality health education and possible adverse implications has solidified my resolution to alleviate structural inadequacies in the health field. I was shocked at how deficient my sexual health knowledge (as well as many of the participants) was prior to working on this project. I hope to work with other reproductive health and rights interns to expose the Tulane community to the key issues we are working on.

NOAF OutLoud and a Future of Story Sharing

In my time so far with the New Orleans Abortion Fund, I’m already learning more about abortion access and running a non-profit than I could have anticipated and I know this is only the beginning! I’m very excited to be gaining the skills necessary and learning more about what goes into a community engaged non profit, including event planning and story sharing, through my focus on the NOAF OutLoud campaign. The NOAF OutLoud campaign is based on centering the narrative of abortion access and focusing on the women, partners, family, clinic escorts and more people that actually go through abortion experiences, rather than seeing this issue as a partisan debate.

In helping Amy plan our first public OutLoud story sharing event and in planning my own OutLoud house parties, I’ve gained so much valuable insight into what goes into event planning and story sharing facilitation. These skills will not only help me in my future work with reproductive health and justice organizations, non-profits, museums or schools that will include event and community engagement opportunities, but the ability to facilitate, listen and engage participants will also be invaluable. In my goals to further my anthropological research, learning to organize story sharing will be essential for accessing first hand cultural knowledge and perspective.

The skills I’m learning with NOAF in my work as a Clinic Escort, in planning rallies and events and conducting community outreach online and in person are practical skills I’ll be able to take to to other non-profits. In addition, the first hand knowledge of abortion access laws, restrictions, policy and personal experiences will help guide me in future Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice initiatives and organizations that I plan to continue to work with throughout my personal and professional future. I plan to continue my work as a Clinic Escort with NOAF, and hope others who are interested in affirming and protecting abortions access rights will become involved in that amazing volunteer opportunity as well.

Amy and one of our stickers at our first public NOAF OutLoud event.

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Hi, I’m Elizabeth!

My name is Elizabeth Laing and I am from Eugene, Oregon. I am a rising junior at Tulane pursuing a major in Public Health and a minor in Spanish. My academic interests center around reproductive and obstetric health as I hope to become a nurse midwife some day! I am thrilled to be working with Dr. Alyssa Lederer again. I worked with Dr. Lederer last semester and our work proved to be very fruitful as we were recently notified that the manuscript we wrote together has been conditionally accepted to the prestigious journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, meaning after some minor revisions it should be officially accepted. Furthermore our presentation abstract for the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in November was also accepted. This summer we will continue working on further qualitative research projects. Besides my work with Dr. Lederer, on campus I am a member of Chi Omega, Women and Youth Supporting Each other (WYSE), Tulane University Peer Health Educators (TUPHEs), and through the TUPHE program she serves as a Get Yourself Tested educator (GYTe). In my free time I love to explore the French Quarter, do a Barre3 workout and spend time outside.

Internship with LIFT Louisiana

14650684_1322198931145788_8029952306656122417_nMy name is Amber Thorpe and I am a rising senior at Tulane University and originally from Los Angeles. After several years of indecisiveness and abrupt major/minor changes, I am finally set on majoring in Anthropology and Political Science and minoring in French and Africana Studies. Beyond academics–which indubitably takes up the bulk of my time during the school year–I work at the Center for Public Service as a Service-Learning Assistant, Community Engagement Advocate, and (recently) as a Curriculum and Training Specialist. Beyond that, I am the historian of Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR), the historian for Amnesty International at Tulane,  the president of the Tulane Anthropology Club, and I work in Doctor Rodning’s lab analyzing archaeological materials. In addition, I am a member of the Omicron Kappa Delta Circle and Mortar Board Honors Society.

After spending the better part of my Tulane years focusing on my anthropology major by engaging in archaeological research (both in the field and in the lab), I am excited to spend some time focusing more on my political science background. This fabulous opportunity to work at Lift Louisiana–a non-profit that seeks to defend reproductive healthcare access in Louisiana through education, litigation, and advocacy work–will provide me with the unique ability to do just that. By interning at this organization, I look forward to deepening my understanding of the state of reproductive healthcare in Louisiana, of the reproductive justice movement (in the South and more broadly), and for the opportunity to get an inside look on how social justice oriented non-profits function. I hope to bring as much to Lift Louisiana as they will indubitably provide me with, and ultimately seek to uplift the work they are doing to defend reproductive healthcare access and ensure that people get the care, treatment, and rights they need and deserve in Louisiana.

Internship With New Orleans Abortion Fund

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My name is Eva Dils, and I am a rising sophomore most likely majoring in Political Economy with a Public Health minor. This past year at Tulane, I worked on the Executive Board of National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) Celebrate Mental Health Festival; served as the Mental Health Vice Chair of the Student Health Advisory Committee; helped found TUlinked, a student-run organization that matches first-year and transfer students with upperclassmen campus leaders to guide them through their first semester at Tulane. Next year, I will serve as the Director of Student Health and Wellness for Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government.

My work is informed by my deeply-held belief in the power of communities of care. Communities of care can be as small as a Tulane student organization or as large as an entire nation, but each shares a goal of seeking to understand, affirm, and uplift their members.

With NOAF this summer, I hope to contribute to the development of a community of care in New Orleans. I will learn about the work NOAF engages in and the people it engages with, asking questions and engaging in conversations to expand my understanding of the issues surrounding abortion in New Orleans and the South more broadly. I will physically support people’s right to choose when to be a parent by helping create a calmer clinic environment through my presence and demeanor as a clinic escort. Finally, I will work on other projects that seek to improve people’s access to reproductive health services through efforts based particularly in equity, destigmatization, and information dissemination.

My Beginning with NOAF

Hi! I’m Hannah, an Anthropology and Environmental Studies double major and a feminist. As an executive board member for the Feminist Alliance of Student’s at Tulane (FAST) and a member of Tulane’s Student’s United For Reproductive Justice (SURGE), I feel deeply passionate about reproductive rights and justice, and believe a woman’s bodily autonomy is her right and her choice. Anthropology has taught me that different cultural systems look at abortion and the right to choose in different ways, and I’m very interested in what it is about the intersection of American culture and institutionalized race and gender discrimination that makes this critical issue so divisive and harmful to those seeking out control over their own bodies. Coming from a majority liberal and feminist-encouraging town in New Jersey, Louisiana has been a sobering wake-me-up for me to the incredibly difficult process of accessibility, affordability, and social stigma attached to a woman’s right to choose. I want to do what I can to help women get the resources and support they need to feel able, safe and comfortable making these choices, which is why I am so excited to begin working with the New Orleans Abortion Fund this summer!

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At NOAF, I will be working for their NOAF OutLoud campaign. This is a storytelling program that gives women the platform and support to tell their abortion stories, and acts a fundraising event. I believe in this campaign’s goals to amplify the voices and experiences of women who have sought out abortion services. I think by telling these stories loudly, listeners will be able to put a face and life story to the women who have made these difficult decisions, humanizing them and making the issue of access to these services come alive. I truly can’t wait to begin to be a part of this dedicated and hardworking organization and work on such a inspiring project!

Reflection on the semester as a research assistant!

I have had a wonderful experience as the research assistant to Dr. Alyssa Lederer this past semester. We have worked hard to complete a paper that has been turned in for peer review and (hopefully) publishing. Our paper investigates the perceptions of the terms STD and STI among college-aged students. We found that late adolescents generally perceive the two terms synonymously and that their perceptions were commonly grounded in misinformation.

It was very interesting being on the research side of an issue that I am very invested in. A lot of the work I do outside of school, and this position, deals with sexual health education. It was empowering being a part of something that will be so applicable to the work I am currently doing at Tulane, and what I hope to be doing in the future as a nurse-midwife. One of the main conclusions from our findings was that because individuals perceive STD and STI similarly it is important as health educators to check in with your patient/population to use the terminology that they’re most comfortable with. Many of the misperceptions highlighted in our investigation could be improved upon with effective communication. It is not enough to shift the terminology from “disease” to “infection” in hopes that the term will carry fewer stigmas. Combatting STD/STI stigma requires more from health educators.

This summer I will be home in Eugene, OR continuing work in reproductive/sexual health in a different context. I will be working in a clinic under a doctor and nurse who specialize in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. I will also be continuing my work as a research assistant to Dr. Lederer via email and Skype. I am excited to be working in both of these realms as I have come to realize overlap between disciplines. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities this internship has given me, and I look forward to working with the women of Newcomb to continually advocate for healthier practices in reproductive health.

Reflection on a semester with the NOAF

In the past couple weeks with NOAF I have been preparing for my culminating internship experience, a story sharing house party, which just happened this past Wednesday (4/26). The party went really well and we had some great conversations about some of the challenges associated with contraception and the disparities in sexual education and access to contraception. I learned from the experience of marketing the event and inviting the guests, and plan to use those lessons to inform the planning of future OurLoud house parties. Parallel to this, I have been promoting the OutLoud program at events such as NOAF’s annual Game-a-thon and by tabling in front of the LBC. We are working on establishing a greater social media presence by using the hashtags for the National Network of Abortion Funds and the 1 in 3 Campaign. I also volunteered to be a campus representative for the 1 in 3 campaign’s week of abortion promotion through sticker art, and I hope to find new places within the community to spread the message and spark conversations on reproductive health and access to abortion.
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I find this work meaningful because it allows me to have profound conversations regarding reproductive health with smart and interesting people who I would likely not have organically encountered or spoken to had I not been given the opportunity by NCI to join this field of work. I have been empowered to be a greater advocate for reproductive rights on campus through the connections I’ve made with some of the pro-choice student organizations such as SURJ (Students United for Reproductive Justice) and through my association with the 1 in 3 campaign. There is so much support among the Tulane and New Orleans community for the reproductive justice, and it gives me great confidence and a sense of agency to be able to participate in this movement.