Two new R25s give CURE Alumni Reason to Celebrate
JANUARY 23, 2018
In a yearly tradition, alumni from DF/HCC’s Initiative to Eliminate Cancer Disparities (IECD) Research Training Program came together for their annual winter gathering to network, learn from each other’s experiences, mingle with mentors from around DF/HCC, and listen to words of wisdom from keynote speaker Travis McCready - the President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a $1 billion public–private partnership with the mission of advancing the life sciences sector in Massachusetts.
“For minorities in the life sciences, not having enough visible faces similar to our own - at any level - within our field represents a major obstacle in creating an entry point to the industry” said McCready after speaking to CURE alumni. “The notion of ‘I can’t be what I don’t see’ must be addressed not just by companies, but by minorities already working in our industry to foster an interest and willingness to enter the life sciences by those who follow us.”
It’s challenges like these that led DF/HCC’s IECD to apply for and receive funding to expand their efforts with two new training programs, funded by the NCI R25 grant mechanism:
- the Young Empowered Scientists for ContinUed Research Engagement (YES for CURE)
- 3-year training initiative for high school and college students including mentored and independent portions
- and the Summer Program to Advance Research Careers (SPARC)
- 12-week, mentored summer research program for community college and UMass Boston students in cancer or cancer disparities research
Over the past 16 years, DF/HCC’s IECD research programming has served 366 students across 221 research environments in each of the seven DF/HCC member institutions. Building on the inspiring success of DF/HCC’s CURE Program, both new R25 funded programs seek to address disparities in the under-representation of racial and ethnic groups in the sciences by providing mentored research opportunities at DF/HCC member institutions and affiliated centers. “We are thrilled to expand our work in this area. It is our belief that early exposure and experiences can make all the difference. Our research training programs seeks to provide the necessary access, hands-on experiences and complementary programming to those who might not have considered research as a career option.” Karen Burns White, Deputy Associate Director of DF/HCC’s IECD, and the director of the IECD Research programming.
“The best way to inspire young people to pursue a career in STEM fields” said Edward J. Benz, Jr, MD, a repeat CURE mentor, and PI of the SPARC program at DF/HCC and UMass Boston, “is to provide early exposure to research. It is these firsthand experiences of actually doing science and working side by side with scientists that ignites the desire to be a scientist. Over and over again we have seen these experiences catalyze a passion for research that causes students to stay connected and pursue a scientific career.
Indeed, as Dr. Benz mentions, DF/HCC Student Research Programs have seen exciting outcomes for those moving through them, with notable statistics over the past 16 years such as:
- 71% have completed college
- 16% have completed graduate school
- 93% completed or currently enrolled in post-secondary education
- 87% graduated with STEM or health science degrees
- 62% are working in a science related field, 19% in a health disparities-related field, and 25% are working in a cancer-related field
Become a mentor
There is still a need for mentors for the upcoming CURE, YES for CURE, and SPARC programs. “Every scientist I know believes that we must expand the pipeline of young people entering science, especially among underrepresented minority groups. This is why we have an obligation to be SPARC and CURE mentors, and, as mentors, demonstrate that we are meeting our responsibility to develop the next generation,” said Dr. Benz, who has mentored many students in the past and has signed up to mentor YES FOR CURE and SPARC students again this year believes strongly in this endeavor. “If you haven’t been part of this program, you must join it; is not too late, and it is the best way that you can make a real difference in addressing our shortage of young scientists.”