Joy Orji, a student in the MSOE School of Nursing, spent her summer at the Medical College of Wisconsin researching cancer-related health disparities while improving diversity and culturally responsible care. She was one of only 10 undergraduate students to participate in the inaugural SPARCC Research Summer (Student-Centered Pipeline to Advance Research in Cancer Careers).  

“My research focused on how culture impacts the way we receive and deliver health information,” said Orji. “I focused on the Hmong population and talked to community leaders about cancer in this population, how it is perceived, and what we as health care providers can improve on.” 

SPARCC is an intensive 8-week summer research program focused on developing a career in clinical cancer prevention, treatment and care for underrepresented minority undergraduate students. The core curriculum focused on cancer care and clinical trials operations; culturally responsive care; leadership and professionalism; ethical and participant safety considerations; study and site management; cancer medicines, development and regulation; data management and informatics; and scientific concepts and research design specific to cancer research.  

“I loved my experience at the Medical College. During the day we had conversations with different doctors about social determinants of health, disparities, different types of cancer, different research positions and the research the doctors at the institution were involved in,” Orji said. “In the afternoons we had rotations with different specialties, and we spent some days in patients’ clinic, survivorship clinic, OR, genetic counseling, pharmacy depending on what rotation we were assigned to.”  

This experience was valuable to Orji considering her long-term career aspirations. “I am very interested in patient care and research, especially on a global level. The fact that I am an Afro-Italian woman living in the States lets me see things from a different perspective all the time,” she said. “My goal is to pursue a terminal degree which will allow me to incorporate all these aspects for a better health care environment.”  

SPARCC is funded by the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).