Heartwheels! STEM Mobile Outreach brings heart health to life for kids

Heartwheels! STEM Mobile Outreach brings heart health to life for kids

Steven C. Koenig, PhD, with young people at a HeartWheels! demonstration.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine amplifies excellence through its students, faculty, and staff. Gretel Monreal, PhD, associate professor in the department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, and Steven C. Koenig, PhD, professor and endowed chair of Cardiac Implant Science in the department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, are upholding the long-standing tradition of giving back to the commonwealth. Together, they founded Heartwheels! STEM Mobile Outreach—an innovative experiential initiative designed to bring participation in and promote awareness of STEM fields to young people and their families, including those in rural and underserved communities. Heartwheels! helps spread awareness of cardiovascular sciences, bioengineering, biomedical technologies, and heart-healthy living through educational initiatives that give the students hands-on experiences.

Heartwheels! is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, Monreal and Koenig hosted STEM community events in their Advanced Heart Failure Research Program (AHFR) at the University of Louisville.  They would invite numerous student groups into their labs to experience fun, hands-on educational activities, but these types of events were halted due to the pandemic.

Heartwheels!STEM Mobile Outreach allows their educational program to continue reaching young people and their families. “Informal extracurricular experiential learning and educational activities trigger young people’s aspiring interests in science, technology, engineering, and math,” said Monreal and Koenig, “Participation in extracurricular STEM activities is one of the most significant factors that drives a student’s interest and passion in pursuing a STEM career.”

The School of Medicine asked Monreal and Koenig their favorite memories from Heartwheels! Koenig recalled his favorite was of a little girl who kept returning to their Heartwheels! booth to ask more questions and asking to hold one of the mechanical circulatory support devices again and again. She was very engaged with the activities and asked insightful questions.

Heartwheels! has an upcoming outreach event in Louisville on February 17-18 at the Kentucky Science Center. The event is open to the public and will allow young people and their families to learn more about STEM fields, living heart-healthy, and seeing cardiovascular and bioengineering technologies in person through fun, hands-on, and interactive engagements.

Monreal and Koenig hope the Heartwheels! program will alleviate any potential fears of STEM fields. “Hopefully it helps young people to believe that they can be anything they want to be, no matter their background or where they’re from.”