“A Really Good Big Deal”

Conducting cancer research with some of the best scholars in the field? Working in world-class facilities? Plus a stipend? And getting your name on a published article as an undergrad?

While this may sound too good to be true, three BYU College of Nursing students will be living the dream while working as student interns over the summer at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC). The students—James Reinhardt, Christin Hickman, and Cortney Welch—will not only contribute to the fight against cancer, but also gain invaluable research and publishing skills that they can use to improve BYU’s own cancer research program.

BYU has a long of history of involvement in cancer studies. Currently, cancer studies is managed through the Simmons Center for Cancer Research (SCCR), which arranges for students to work with BYU professors to investigate cancer. Lately, there has been an emphasis on connecting the SCCR with outside locations as well.

“[The SCCR’s] director, Merrill Christensen, has been looking for opportunities for our students to go away from the BYU campus, get a research experience, and then ideally come back to BYU and share with colleagues, including professors that they might RA for,” explains assistant professor Dr. Deborah Himes.

Himes, whose own research focuses heavily on cancer, played a major role in promoting the internship to students and helping them with the application. One unique aspect of the OSUCCC internship is that students had to choose what areas of cancer research they wanted to work in for the summer, and Himes aided students with understanding the different options.

The internship, she explains, is a wonderful opportunity for students to be involved in the research process.

“They’re going to be immersed full-time in a lab, working with professors who are doing current research, and they will be given a small piece of that research to work with some,” she says. The students will analyze that data and derive conclusions from it. They will present that information in a poster, and then later will present it orally to a panel of PhD professors. Following that, they will be able to publish their research in a scholarly article.

Right to left: James Reinhardt, Cortney Welch, Christin Hickman

For the students, the opportunity to complete the internship has a surreal feeling to it, especially since they will be doing real research with real data with established professionals in the field of cancer research.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how the research process works,” Welch says. “I’ve never been a part of research before, so I think this is something really interesting and important to let me know how I can contribute to research in the future and to get my foot in the door.”

One factor that drives the students is an interest in studying cancer.

“I’ve just always had this desire because I feel like cancer is something so mysterious—like, nobody has come up with a direct cure for it quite yet,” says Hickman. “I want to be able to help find that cure or at least find a prevention for cancer and then like I said, there’s not many opportunities for nursing students really to have this kind of cancer research internship.”

Reinhardt is interested in finding out if cancer research is something he would enjoy or not. Last year, he participated in a movement where he rode his bike to raise money for cancer research. Now he feels that he is contributing to the fight against cancer with a new approach.

“I’ve already fulfilled one part of that passion by riding for it and fundraising for it, but it will cool to see that this is the education and informational part of the same disease process,” he says. “Instead of fundraising, I’m learning about it to help in a different way.”

Overall, there is a consensus that the opportunity is, as Himes puts it, a “really good big deal.”

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