In 2022, we are excited to introduce Big Green BFFs, a new recurring series that looks at the friendships forged at Dartmouth. We talk with groups of alumni friends about how Dartmouth brought them together and how they have stayed connected as alumni. Our first story focuses on three women with a shared passion for engineering and helping women.
Alumnae Meegan Daigler D ’14 Th ’15, Kaitlin Maier D ’ 14 Th ’15, and Ariana Sopher D ’ 14 Th ’15 met in their undergraduate engineering classes. Now, they are co-founders of a women’s health brand on a mission to bring women’s health devices into the 21st century. We talked with the three alumnae about their friendship at Dartmouth and beyond—which was the impetus for founding the company they run together today.
Q. How did the three of you meet at Dartmouth?
A. We met because we all studied engineering, and we kept seeing each other in the same classes. Starting freshman year, we all took the myriad of required prerequisite classes, but we didn’t become closer friends until the more project-based classes sophomore and junior year.
Q. Do you think you were drawn to each other as women in engineering? Were your courses predominantly male?
A. Actually, not really. The class that came along two years after us, the ’16s, was the first engineering class that graduated more women than men. Compared to many other engineering schools, it was a pretty even ratio. But I think part of what drew us together was the general male dominance in engineering as a field. We knew we were going out into a male-dominated field, so we were interested in what it would mean to study engineering in a female context. That’s how we became interested in women’s health.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your business, Reia Health?
A. We knew from experience that there are archaic women’s health devices out there that are in need of an upgrade. We decided to examine this in our fifth-year independent study class. The official name of our project was: “The biomechanics of the female pelvis.” But we were excited to interview healthcare practitioners in the women’s health field. We wanted to understand the landscape and see if there were devices that would be interesting to try to redesign. Then, we met with a urogynecologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, who introduced us to this device called the pessary that’s used to treat pelvic organ prolapse. We’d never heard of prolapse before, and we also didn’t know anything about pessaries.
We discovered that it’s a simple device but was very poorly designed. We believed it would be possible to upgrade pessaries and make them a lot easier and more comfortable for people to use. These upgrades could have a significant and positive effect on people’s everyday lives. Graduation came quickly, and we put the project aside for a while but remained in touch with the urogynecologist who introduced us to pessaries. A few years later, all of us were still excited about the idea, so we sponsored a project at Thayer through the 89-90 course. Companies or individuals can sponsor a project in that course, and Thayer students who are in their final year work on it at Dartmouth for six months. And in 2019, we received a National Institute of Health grant that allowed us to really give it the college try.
Q. What are some of your fondest Dartmouth memories?
A. Our fifth year on campus as Thayer students was great. I think one cool thing about the fifth year from a friendship perspective is that the class shrinks down to just the engineers from your class year. I remember that when we were in the fifth year, everything felt very “adult.” We no longer had a dining plan, so we would make breakfast together, pack lunches to take to Thayer, and go back to the house at the end of the day and cook a big group dinner. Our Hanover world grew a bit too as we went on all kinds of adventures off-campus and developed friendships with some of the other grad students.
During the fifth year, you do some group projects that are very intensely team building—they are very much bonding experiences. There are a few notorious engineering classes with group projects that can consume your life. In one of the classes, we had a robotics challenge. We split into teams to build a robot to navigate in an obstacle course. We selected pink as our team color. Not only was our robot pink; we were in the Thayer bathrooms on the morning of competition day, bleaching the ends of our hair and dying them pink! I think that, in a way, we were leaning into our female identity. None of us are super feminine in our everyday dress. But our pink hair represented an antithesis to the male-dominated engineering stereotype.
Q. What is it about Dartmouth friendships that make them last?
A. I think strong bonds often are formed when you learn to work together, whether on a robot design or a first-year trip.
During our fifth year, our housemate’s cousin came to visit and she left us a note that said “Three of my favorite things about being here were seeing how kind you are to one another, how much fun you all are having, and how quickly thoughts turn into action.” We actually learned a lot of that at Thayer. To think through the effects of a change on the entire system. To have a propensity to not only come up with lots of ideas but also to immediately test them out. That dividing and conquering is not always effective and is rarely as fun.
To this day, when we reunite with our Dartmouth friends, we fall into the same patterns because we still have the instincts to lend a hand, make things happen, and have fun.
If you enjoyed this alumnae story, be sure to check out our Dartmouth Coeducation at 50 website for more interesting information about our distinguished alumnae and their work around the girdled Earth.