Rebecca Steele recently received the "Dr Aunt Peg" Margaret Driscoll Fellowship for her work in transformative graduate education initiatives with a focus in diversity in medical settings.

Steele managed an undergrad internship in a Gross Anatomy lab, where she initially discovered the diversity issue in medical schools.

“I noticed year after year that my interns were very diverse, but the students that were actually getting into med school were not as diverse as my sample said they should be,” said Steele.

Steele’s most recent research was into aerial circus, also known as aerial acrobatics, a form of exercise and performance art where a person moves while suspended by specially designed hoops, ropes, or lengths of fabric.

“What I was noticing is they are really inclusive,” Steele said. “They have classes set up for all bodies, all skill levels, all abilities. And as I talked to people I realized there was a large number of neurodiverse people as well.”

Last semester, as a diversity scholar, Steele created and distributed a survey to aerial circus studios across the nation to see if her experience held true to what’s happening in most studios, and she was correct, neurodiverse people are more likely to participate in aerial circus.

As she continues her time at Virginia Tech, she plans to push for the addition of diverse exercise options on campus, including aerial circus,  so that all students can thrive.

“Physical exercise is incredibly important no matter what major you’re in or what degree you’re seeking,” Steele said, “Having inclusive options to support graduate students holistically is part of that transformative graduate education.”

After finishing her doctoral studies, Steele hopes to return to work in a medical school, and wants to have a hand in admissions and curriculum development, and diversity outreach matters.

To learn more about graduate fellowships and other funding opportunities, click here.

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