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Summer Experience Inspires Cancer Research Careers

Aug 24, 2023, 19:27 PM by Nyla Sauter

Sophia Schutte thought she wanted to be a physician. But after a summer research fellowship at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, the Xavier University undergraduate has her sights set on a dual MD-PhD career. 

“It was the perfect match for me, as cancer is something I am passionate about,” says Schutte, who has family experience with cancer. 

Schutte was one of the 23 scholars selected from 400 applicants for a cancer-focused Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) known as the Cancer Research Scholars Program (CRSP). 

“The program allows undergrads to get research experience across the cancer continuum and help them to find their career ‘homes’ in cancer research,” says Melinda Butsch Kovacic, MPH, PhD, associate director for community outreach & engagement at the Cancer Center. 

“I met students from all over and built a supportive relationship with my mentor, while the educational panels and community outreach gave me new perspectives on research,” says Schutte, a junior at Xavier who is originally from Seattle. 

CRSP Student presents her poster.

CRSP launched in 2022 through a collaboration with members of the Cancer Center and faculty from the College of Allied Health Sciences. Funded by a five-year R25 grant from the National Cancer Institute, the program offers paid research and educational experiences for qualified summer undergraduate scholars.

For 2022, faculty opted into the Cancer Mentor Network using an online survey link or were invited to participate if a scholar’s interest matched with their research. Beginning in 2023, all mentors must be active members of the Cancer Center. 

“Our faculty are excited to support undergrads and give them opportunities to experience cancer research in unique ways,” says Butsch Kovacic, who is also a professor and associate dean of research in the UC College of Allied Health Sciences. 

Schutte, one of 10 CRSP scholars who have continued with research throughout the academic year, has been assisting the Privette Vinnedge Lab with breast cancer research. 

“I thought I wanted to be a physician, but CRSP has made me more interested in research,” Schutte says. “Research is much more collaborative than you see. I still like the patient side of being a physician, so I’m contemplating an MD-PhD at this point.” 

Schutte will be a student mentor for the 2023 CRSP cohort. 

In addition to research, CRSP participants engaged in three community field experiences through a collaboration with Community Outreach & Engagement and the Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination team. The field experiences targeted cancer prevention education and screening, grief, and breast cancer awareness. 

“It was also really important to me to help students understand the benefits of community outreach and the connection between their clinical work, research and community engagement,” Butsch Kovacic says. 

2023 CRSP students gather for a photo.