Saugus High School student Skylar Long was one of six students selected as a Junior Fellow at the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine (CAMM) at USC’s Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine this summer.
As CAMM Junior Fellows, the six students spent six hours per day studying cancer research and exploring clinical oncology in a hands-on laboratory environment.
“I did not realize how many different aspects there were in cancer research,” Long said. “The program [includes] biologists, mathematicians and engineers, combining their expertise with the medical team. We learned that it takes an army to combat this terrible disease.”
Currently in its seventh year, the Junior Fellows program selects a small number of students based on their GPA, letters of recommendation and personal essays about their career goals.
In her essay Long said she aspires to revolutionize cancer treatment and prevention since cancer continuously threatens those she loves. She said she also wanted to explore different approaches to fighting the disease.
“As a society, we have made great technological advances, especially in medicine. However, it seems like cancer is an evolving mystery; the closer we come to understanding it, the more complicated it becomes to solve,” Long said in her application essay. “Although there have been incremental advancements with targeted therapeutics and immuno-oncology, the standard treatments seem crude and unrefined.”
Long noted that her experience at Saugus High School as well mentorship from her teachers sparked her interested in cancer research and prepared her for the experience.
She credited her freshman sports medicine teacher, Krista Botton, for kindling her love of hands-on patient care, and science teacher, Clarissa Resella, for allowing her to be her lab assistant and for supporting her creation of the Saugus chapter of the Science National Honor Society.
“Resella has been an amazing mentor and friend to me over the years and we are working closely together to reach out to the campus and community to inspire others,” Long said.
She also noted that her English teacher, Brant Botton, spent time reviewing her cover letter, resume and application for the program so she could apply for other jobs, scholarships and colleges.
Junior Fellows Program
At the Ellison Institute, the junior fellows met with a team of scientists working to overcome cancer.
“We had experts in a variety of fields deliver personal lectures to the junior fellows,” Lon said. “Topics ranged from Prostate Cancer, Applied Mathematics in Science and Medicine, Epigenome and Human Health, and the Tumor Microenvironment, just to name a few.”
The institute emphasized both collaboration and a multidisciplinary approach to fighting the disease and taught the students how to accept failure and uncertainty in the lab setting.
“The most rewarding part of this program was developing a new way of processing information and being at peace with being completely wrong,” Long said. “We learned that science research is a series of failures, which slowly leads you to success.”
The small size of the program also allowed the students and professors to grow closer together, develop friendships and form mentorships.
“Since we were thrown into such an intense situation, we instantly developed a tight bond,” Long said. “Even though the summer program has ended, Dr. Kian Kani, our main mentor, is providing us with guidance and advice for college and beyond.”
Additional participants in the program include: Kelly Bartlett of Santa Monica High School, Will Biederman of Wildwood, Joaquin Garcia of Windward, Mia Moreno of Palisades Charter and Jennifer Nguyen of Alhambra High School.
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