As part of the Cancer Center at Illinois’ (CCIL) education initiative, the Cancer Scholar Program (CSP) invites students of diverse backgrounds and disciplines to enrich their experience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Recently, the program adopted a mentor-mentee model to help guide new students as they embark on their individual cancer research journeys.
“I had amazing mentors at the University of Illinois. It was one of the greatest things I experienced here so I wanted to be able to pass the torch of knowledge and experience,” Ege Onal said, mentor and undergraduate in bioengineering.
Many of the mentees stated that the program has offered them different opportunities and a glimpse into what their future would look like.
“The mentor program built my confidence for reaching out to do something more than just my academics. From the CSP, I was able to pick up a research position and help out with the research project. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that if I didn’t have my mentor, Annie Hart, or the CSP in general, because they showed me how to reach out to professors and get started with that process,” Romir Sigla said, mentee and an undergraduate student in bioengineering.
By fostering relationships with their mentees, mentors learned how to lead groups, tailor their help to individual students’ interests, lend a helping hand, and grow as leaders. Mentors were able to connect with people outside of their cohort, allowing under- and upperclassmen alike to share their unique experiences.
Navigating college for the first time during a pandemic can be intimidating and challenging. With all of the uncertainties of the pandemic, the CSP is still trying to offer as much as they can to their students. The CSP actively provides research prospects to their students and offers them a “virtual” space to socialize and meet new people.
“I think this program has been really awesome during COVID because we’ve been sent a lot of research opportunities and different lectures we can watch on our own. We’re still doing things during COVID and we’re able to pursue different challenges so we can make a bigger impact when we transition to in-person things again,” Jennifer Chen said, mentee and undergraduate electrical engineering student.
Mentors seized this chance to become guides for underclassmen as a chance to “pay it forward.” Students shared the value and prevalence of support and community within their cohorts and the CSP itself.
“I thought it was a really great way to give back. I know as a freshman coming into college it was a scary time trying to navigate academics and research among other things. Since I navigated through it and supported my friends, it was nice to help out freshmen and give them advice,” Annie Hart said, mentor and undergraduate in bioengineering.
The Cancer Scholars Program has made a great impact on all its students since its beginnings in 2015. The program continues to grow and has an alumni network of over fifty students.