High school and college students from underrepresented backgrounds were able to explore careers in cancer care and research through new programs at Markey.
Diversity in science is critical to research and patient care. More diverse perspectives in health care can lead to advances in knowledge, greater innovation and creative problem-solving.
That’s why the UK Markey Cancer Center is inspiring young people from historically underrepresented groups to learn more about the felds of cancer medicine and research. Two new programs held in the summer of 2021 gave high school and college students the chance to do just that.
The Summer HealthCare Experience (SHE) in Oncology program empowers female high school students to learn more about cancer science and medicine. Markey was one of fve universities to receive funding from the American Cancer Society (ACS) to hold a two-week program.
Nineteen students from across Kentucky learned how to use at-home science kits to perform cancer genetic experiments and presented their fndings. Other SHE program highlights included:
- Lectures and career development sessions.
- A panel of female cancer center leaders.
- A panel featuring cancer survivors.
“Providing opportunities like these is critical to building a diverse pipeline of future oncology leaders.”
Kathy Goss, American Cancer Society
Vice President for Regional Cancer Control
Planned as an in-person experience, the program moved to a virtual format because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave students at the five universities chances to collaborate in ways they couldn’t during separate in-person programs.
“The virtual nature really allowed participants to engage with each other across these five different locations,” said program director Nathan Vanderford, PhD, MBA.
Group clinical case study projects at each cancer center also looked at the unique causes and consequences of cancer in the various geographic areas and populations.
“It was phenomenal to have them interact with each other and learn about the cancer populations each cancer center is responsible for and why those individuals get cancer,” Vanderford said.
Eight rising sophomores, juniors and seniors from the University of Kentucky and colleges throughout the Bluegrass participated in the Markey Science Training in Research, Oncology, Networking and professional Growth (STRONG) Scholars Program. The Markey STRONG program aims to encourage the talents of students who come from underserved or underrepresented backgrounds, including African American and Hispanic students, and other underserved populations.
Participants spent 10 weeks exploring their interests in research and cancer. Program highlights included:
- Research techniques.
- Individual research experiences with matched faculty mentors.
- Lab work with peer mentor graduate assistants or post-doctoral students.
- Weekly didactic learning sessions and roundtable sessions.
- Clinical shadowing with oncologists, surgeons, pathologists and other providers.
At the end of the program, participants presented their work at a poster session and had an opportunity to personalize their white lab coats for the “Coats of Colors” Ceremony, refecting the diversity that is so important for research and medicine. Mentors said the scholars were well prepared to do research, and some expect the scholars will share authorship on papers as a result of their work.
“It was a wonderful experience for everyone,” program coordinator Erin Oakley, PhD, said. “The scholars that participated really formed a bond with each other and the experience meant a lot to each of them.”
The ACS funded both programs. Markey STRONG was also supported by the University of Kentucky Diversity and Inclusion United In True racial Equity (UNITE) Research Priority Area and the UK College of Medicine Offce of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“The American Cancer Society was proud to partner with UK Markey Cancer Center for the launch of the SHE in Oncology Program and Markey STRONG Program to expose enthusiastic young people to careers in cancer research, care, and community outreach and engagement,” said Kathy Goss, PhD, ACS vice president for regional cancer control. “Providing opportunities like these is critical to building a diverse pipeline of future oncology leaders.”