Dozens of Oregon high school students will contribute to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s efforts to end cancer as we know it this summer through a new internship program called Knight Scholars.
The program encourages youth whose communities are underrepresented in cancer research, health care and public health – including those of diverse races and ethnicities, and those from rural areas – to consider pursuing a career in the fields of cancer research, treatment and prevention.
“We want more youth to know working in cancer-related fields is within reach,” said Knight Scholars director Jackilen Shannon, Ph.D., R.D. “Many people think working in cancer means being an oncologist, but cancer research and cancer education through public health outreach are also part of the larger cancer professional picture. This program will expose a diverse group of high school students to all of those as real, tangible opportunities for their futures. We want kids to get excited about this.”
The program is part of a national effort to increase diversity in cancer professions. Less than 11 percent of U.S. researchers are from underrepresented groups and just 2.3 percent of practicing oncologists are black and 5.7 percent are Hispanic.
Knight Scholars offers students an introduction to careers in cancer for up to three years. The summer 2019 program will include tours of research facilitates and meetings with OHSU faculty to learn the big picture of cancer research over the course of one week. While visiting OHSU, students will stay in dormitories and work together to understand how cancer is affecting Oregon communities. Afterward, participants will return to their respective communities and start a local project to addresses cancer issues affecting their hometown with the help of a local mentor.
Students interested in continuing with the program can apply for a second summer, which will include two weeks at OHSU and involve engaging with more OHSU faculty who are involved in cancer areas of interest to each student. Afterward, participants will again return to their community to work further on their local cancer project and shadow a cancer professional in their hometown.
The third summer will feature a more in-depth, six-week experience at OHSU, during which students will contribute to OHSU research by working in their selected mentor’s lab. At the end of this final summer, students will give presentations about their community projects and the OHSU research they’ve supported.
Gynecological cancer researcher and clinician Tanja Pejovic, M.D., Ph.D., will be one of the OHSU mentors working with Knight Scholars each summer. After graduating from medical school in Belgrade of the former Yugoslavia, Pejovic went on to study the genetics of ovarian cancer in France and Sweden before joining Yale and later OHSU. The diversity of those experiences helped her become a well-rounded clinician-researcher and she wants to help high school students have similar opportunities.
“Being part of diverse groups brings different mindsets together and enables us to see things from unique perspectives,” Pejovic said. “Making research and medicine more diverse should help us better address cancer.”
Knight Scholars is now accepting applications from ninth- and 10th-graders for the program’s first year, which will begin with 24 students coming to OHSU this summer. Participants will be paid a stipend and receive free housing and lodging while at OHSU each summer. Between 24 and 36 students will participate in the program during each of its first five years.
Online applications are due at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, April 1. The program currently is open to ninth- or 10-grade students only at:
- Portland’s Jefferson High School/Middle College for Advanced Studies
- Culver High School
- Klamath Falls-area high schools, including Chiloquin, Mazama, Klamath Union, Henley and Eagle Ridge, and members of The Klamath Tribes
- Madras High School, including members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
- Woodburn High School
The Knight Scholars program is funded by a five-year, $2.5-million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It was inspired by the Ted R. Lilley CURE Program, which offers Portland-area students OHSU cancer research experience for one summer.