Inspiring the Next Generation of Cancer Researchers

2017-foxchase-studentsFor Reese Callahan, a rising ninth grader at Spring-Ford High School, the Fox Chase STEM Immersion Essentials Summer Program at Montgomery County Community College means much more than learning laboratory techniques and conducting experiments using fruit flies.

“When I was in fourth grade, my gifted teacher was diagnosed with cancer, so I want to get into that field,” Callahan said. “I want to be an oncologist when I get older and help find a cure for cancer.”

Callahan is one of 16 students, age 13 to 15, from throughout the region selected to participate in the program which ran July 24-28 at the Montgomery County Community College West Campus in Pottstown, Pa. The program is designed to expose students to scientific research and inspire the next generation of cancer researchers. The same program with an equal number of students was held July 10-14 on the MCCC Central Campus in Blue Bell, Pa.

Now in its second year, the program is a collaboration between the Fox Chase Cancer Center Immersion Science Program and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Division at MCCC.

During the program, which is free for participants, students engage in collaborative learning and get a crash course in laboratory techniques, such as micropipetting, gel loading and solutions and dilutions. They conduct experiments with fruit flies to determine how diet influences cancer signaling, and present their research findings during a poster presentation on the program’s final day. Throughout the week, students hear from speakers in various STEM fields about how they became interested in science and where their careers have taken them.

Addie O’Malley, a rising ninth grader at Springfield High School, took the program because she has a broad interest in science and wanted to explore different fields. She said the program has piqued her interest in cancer research
“I wanted to take this camp so I can narrow down what I want to be,” O’Malley said.  “The best part of the camp has been working with the advanced tools and actually making the things that we are going to work with, so that’s been cool.”

Dara Ruiz-Whalen, education director of the Immersion Science Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center and a former member of the faculty at MCCC, said the program has been a great addition to the Immersion Science network of programming. The flagship Immersion Science Program has grown to include a Summer Fellows Program, a Teachers Training Program, an In-Class Training Program, and the Fly Lab at Esperanza College.

“The Immersion Essentials Summer Program is a great first step towards getting and keeping students engaged in scientific research," Ruiz-Whalen said. "We hope that this experience has them asking bigger questions and wanting to learn more about how important nutrition can be to over-all health. Essentials has the participants using real foods and making possible connections to cancer signaling pathways through experiments, lectures, and on-line research.”

The program is free for students thanks to individual and corporate donations from Barney Berlinger Jr., CEO, ASI Technologies, Inc, Montgomeryville; Ken Baker, CEO, New Age Industries, Inc., Southampton; Dan Jones, President of Philadelphia Scientific, Montgomeryville; Joseph Tarnowski, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Cell and Gene Therapy Platform, GlaxoSmith Kline, King of Prussia; GlaxoSmithKline Foundation; EFE Laboratories, Inc., Horsham, and Joseph and Kathy Gallagher of Ambler
Dr. James Bretz, interim dean of the STEM Division at MCCC, said the program exposes students to research techniques and laboratory work that used to be reserved for college graduate students.

“Some of the work they’re doing I wasn’t exposed to until I was in graduate school or even later as a postdoctoral fellow,” Bretz said. “This program introduces students to the STEM fields and scientific research at a critical age. Montgomery County Community College is proud to partner with the Immersion Science Program and Fox Chance Cancer Center on this important initiative.”