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Members of the student training team

Five college students are getting a first-hand look at high-level cancer research at Moffitt Cancer Center, thanks to a new scholarship program funded by the American Cancer Society that trains underrepresented minority undergraduate students.

The program is called ENCOURAGE, which stands for Encouraging Cancer and Oncology Undergraduate Research Growth and Engagement.

“It has been inspiring to hear from cancer researchers and doctors from all different fields, learn about their career journeys and gain insight into their research,” said Kaitlyn Miranda, a University of South Florida senior majoring in biomedical engineering.

Miranda and the four other students in the program have been training in the labs of world-renowned experts at Moffitt this summer. They also attend seminars, meetings, workshops and other career development activities during their time at Moffitt.

The year-long program is a great opportunity for accomplished students who are exploring future careers in medicine and research. It also reflects Moffitt’s commitment to health equity, by encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to enter medical fields.

“These five incredibly bright and energetic students are making the most of their opportunity here at Moffitt, and I believe they will make a positive impact on the medical profession and on cancer research as they take the next step in their careers,” said Kenneth Wright, PhD, Moffitt Associate Center Director for Research Education and Training. “We’re grateful to the American Cancer Society for sponsoring this program and investing in the future of these scholars.”

Nicole Londono, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said she always has felt at home in high school and college chemistry labs, so ENCOURAGE is a perfect fit.

“I absolutely love coming into the lab every day and learning something new, while also working on research that I know ultimately helps people in the future” Londono said.

Justin Denis, a USF senior biology major, said ENCOURAGE is, “a great program that helps all types of students who need a jump start in their medical career. It provides effective mentors who help students connect and further their experience in cancer research.”

Denis’ mentor Clement Gwede, PhD, MPH, of Moffitt’s Health Outcomes and Behavior Program, said, “The ENCOURAGE program helps Moffitt further expand engagement of underrepresented students in cancer research. Justin is a great fit and has thrived in our Lab working on a study to understand prostate cancer genetic risk among diverse unaffected men. He will gain significant exposure to health equity research in the Black community.”

Miranda, who hopes to pursue a doctoral degree and become a medical researcher, said the program has given her a rare opportunity to see what lies ahead in her career path.

“The ENCOURAGE program has opened my eyes to what the day-to-day life of research is like,” she said. “I have also learned valuable technical skills such as tissue culture, microscopy and data analysis to name a few, which will build up my resume for graduate school. I have enjoyed the fast-paced world of research, which excites me for my future career!”