Greenebaum Cancer Center and University of Maryland, Baltimore Launch Program to Steer Students into Careers in Cancer Research and Care

For immediate release: October 28, 2014

Sanya Springfield, PhD,  and Jay Perman, MD

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) in partnership with the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC) has announced a new program to cultivate and steer science-minded West Baltimore middle school students into cancer-related research and health care careers. Called the UMB CURE Scholars Program, the initiative will provide academic purpose and support to students while addressing the racial disparity that exists in cancer-related workforces.

The program is funded through a two-year $750,000 grant — a supplement to the UMGCC cancer center support grant by the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.  It is being led by UMB President Jay Perman, MD, and is the latest example of UMB’s commitment to the health and education of its West Baltimore neighborhood.

Dr. Perman didn’t mince words when he addressed the critical need to reduce cancer workforce disparities at a recent press briefing. “Let me be very direct. It’s very important that we get students of color into the sciences and healthcare,” he said. “Not just because of access to good paying jobs that lift up families and transforms communities…A lot of diseases, including cancer, ravage communities like West Baltimore. We need people of this community of different races and ethnicities pursuing biomedical research and clinical training.”

“Cancer is an epidemic in underprivileged areas, in part due to low awareness of the disease, inadequate access to cancer screening programs, and too few care providers who are of the community,” says UMGCC Director Kevin Cullen, MD. “The UMB CURE Scholars Program is as much a medical intervention for our city as it is an educational opportunity for our youth.”

The program will bridge students who have a strong interest in science with cancer researchers, educators and health professional s and provide them the opportunity to engage in a continuum of career development activities throughout the remainder of their schooling. Students will participate in a series of UMB-sponsored events and activities several times per year, including visits to campus, work in research laboratories and interaction with researchers and graduate students. A month-long summer camp geared toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning will provide opportunities for hands-on exploration.

UMB CURE Scholars Institute is part of NCI’s CURE or Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences program, which has a proven track record in funneling talented minorities into the field of cancer research.

“Partnerships of this type are critical if we are serious about changing the demographics of cancer and the biomedical workforce,” says Sanya Springfield, PhD, director of NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. “More minorities die from cancer, and there is a dearth of individuals from underrepresented populations entering the biomedical workforce enterprise.”

NCI’s program has historically provided support to high school students through their first academic appointment. UMB’s pilot program will be the first to engage middle school-aged students, with the belief that the program’s influence at a younger age will result in greater results.

The program will launch over the next two years. In the first year, UMB researchers will study existing STEM programs in Maryland and throughout the country and apply their findings to the design of UMB CURE Scholars. At least 25 students will enter the program when it is implemented during the 2015-2016 school year.

The UMB CURE Scholars Program is an expansion of existing efforts to infuse STEM learning into the city’s education system. Says Dr. Perman, the program will allow West Baltimore students to “develop their interest in science and open doors to the best jobs in biomedicine.”

“To look at what we are doing in regard to STEM and to try to figure out how it can be most effective and efficient is very important,” says Congressman Elijah Cummings, who applauds the effort to empower city youth with knowledge and tools that allow for personal and community betterment.

The program leadership team recognizes that collaboration among community-based organizations will be vital to both the students’ and the program’s success.

“UMB CURE is built on already strong partnerships between the mayor’s office, West Baltimore schools, churches, neighborhood associations, and local colleges and universities,” says Dr. Perman. “We already have a critical mass of people working toward this effort, who are supporting students in what we hope will ultimately become a rigorous years-long program.”

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