In an age of increasingly complex diseases, such as cancer and obesity, it has become difficult for patients to understand information presented to them regarding their health without a grasp of basic genetics concepts. Furthermore, patients are unable to adequately advocate for their healthcare needs if they do not have the knowledge base to determine what questions to ask. Another issue we as a society face today is the lack of representation of women in STEM professions. A potential reason for this could be that young girls do not see enough women currently holding positions in genetics, computer science, engineering and more, and so they feel discouraged from pursuing these careers themselves. For this reason, LEDGE was established in 2019 as a method to improve female visibility in STEM careers all the while enhancing the genetic literacy of middle and high school age students.
Clinical, or diagnostic, genetics is a field that is becoming more popular with an increase in the need for personalized medicine. Middle and high schools today often only touch the surface of many diagnostic genetics’ topics, and for many students, this is the last encounter they may have with this material before they are never required to study it again. LEDGE is targeted at this age group because going into the world, it is essential that every person is fully equipped with a basic clinical genetics knowledge that they can use in patient-doctor interactions.
Kathleen Renna, a senior at the University of Connecticut in the diagnostic genetic sciences program, is the founder and director of LEDGE. In the winter of 2019, she was selected as an inaugural BOLD Scholar at UConn. The mission of BOLD is to cultivate young women into fearless leaders through service leadership opportunities. To help accomplish this, scholars are awarded a grant to develop a project that is meaningful to them and necessary to improve their communities. For more information on the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network at UConn, visit their website.
Kathleen found her passion for genetics at an earlier age but delved deep into the world of clinical genetics once starting in the DGS program in Fall 2018. Outside of her program, Kathleen works in a neuroregeneration laboratory studying changes in gene expression and will use her findings to write her thesis as a University Scholar, this highest academic distinction at UConn. She is also interested in One Health, health inequities, and finding quirky coffee shops. Kathleen is especially passionate about public health genetics, and intends to pursue a dual degree in medicine and a master’s in public health following her graduation in 2020.