As a large research institution, the University of Illinois offers its students the opportunity to work within faculty labs as well as spread awareness for the research happening blocks away from their dorms. The Cancer Center at Illinois Ambassador program enables students with an early-rising passion for cancer research to make an impact during their four years.
Cancer Scholars Courtney Ketchum and Ege Onal recently shared their motivations for joining the CCIL Ambassador program and their dedication to the grander mission of the CCIL. Ege has experience working in CCIL research program leader, Brian Cunningham’s, lab using new technologies to develop devices and treatments for cancer. He was also previously involved in Shuming Nie’s lab where he worked on nanoparticle contrast agents for intraoperative cancer detection and image-guided surgery.
Courtney has worked in CCIL researcher King Li’s lab where she focused on cell culture and the potential to harness the properties of ultrasound to release free radicals in brain tumors. In addition, she gained experience in Michael Oelze’s research lab where she conducted research on using bioacoustics for tumor treatment. In addition to their hands-on lab projects, they are working to further involve the undergraduate community in the CCIL’s impactful research.
The ambassadors take part in promoting cancer research efforts, educating fellow students about the CCIL’s mission, encouraging students to explore cancer research as a career path, and volunteer at events.
“It is extremely rewarding to know that the work we do in spreading awareness is vital to the research process,” Courtney said. As voices for cancer research, the ambassadors play important roles in communicating novel therapies, technologies, and methodologies developed by the members of the Cancer Center at Illinois.
Although COVID-19 brought most of campus life to a halt last spring, the ambassadors are fueled with new ideas and perspectives to bring to the Illinois campus. This program aims to continue educating the campus community about cancer research at Illinois, which is changing the lives of patients, providing new opportunities, and rapidly progressing cancer treatment.
“We really have amazing people in our teams. Cancer doesn’t stand a chance!” Ege said. Cancer research doesn’t begin and end in the lab; it works with the community to raise awareness and advocate for positive change.