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Undergrads Prepare for Careers in Cancer Research through SCI Internships

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“My mother died of cancer when I was a teenager. At a very young age, I was determined to do something in this field,” said Bethanie Russell, who is among five college undergraduates chosen for a Simmons Cancer Institute (SCI) summer internship working in a lab with cancer researchers.

Each intern will do a presentation to faculty and staff at SCI in August on the research they participated in over the summer.

Russell is a native of Huzhou City, China, and plans to attend the University of Illinois-Springfield after finishing her second year at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. Describing herself as a “person who likes challenges,” she said, “Studying cancer and treating cancer patients are very challenging, because cancer is a universe. One can spend an entire life exploring it. I believe it is the most meaningful way to spend the rest of my life in searching for a cure of cancer.” She is working with Daoti Nie, PhD, and plans to attend medical school with a career in oncology.

The paid internships, which are awarded on a competitive basis, began at the end of May and will end mid-August. The program received 23 applications this year. Three to five are awarded annually, with one internship based in Carbondale.

Taylor Badger, (pictured above) who will be a senior this fall at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, is majoring in biology. “I am really looking forward to learning the fundamentals of bench research and how this data can improve patient outcomes in health care.” Badger is from Springfield and is assisting Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming, PhD.

An interest in science, medicine and community service brought many opportunities at an early age to Kara Starkweather. “I have volunteered at various hospitals, shadowed physicians and conducted research. These opportunities, along with the support and encouragement from my family, have influenced my desire to pursue a career in medicine,” said Starkweather, who will be a senior at SIU Carbondale this fall.

Starkweather, who is from Rochester, will do her internship on the Carbondale campus, working with Dale “Buck” Hales, PhD. She plans to attend medical school and has an interest in pediatric oncology.

As an undergrad, Michael Gleason has been looking into MD/PhD programs around the nation that focus on cancer research or have access to oncology-based facilities. “I feel that with both degrees, I would be able to directly impact the lives of patients in the clinic by providing them treatment while also conducting research related to cancer to further improve current and emerging treatments.” Gleason is from Rochester and will be a junior this fall majoring in bioengineering at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

Reilly Kuhn from Auburn has an interest in geriatrics and family medicine, focusing on “improved lifestyles that consist of healthy diets, more exercise, improving quality of life without the need for as many prescription drugs.” Kuhn is a junior at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, majoring in biochemistry. She will work with Andy Wilber, PhD.

“While I have always wanted to go into medicine, it wasn’t until I started working as a certified nursing assistant in Dubuque that I was able to put that desire into action. Working with Dr. Wilber has been wonderful. I’m able to see the passion and drive that goes into this work. Hands-on learning has always been helpful for me, and I believe this summer will be a positive experience for me to become more familiar and interested in research,” Kuhn added.

About the Internship

Simmons Cancer Institute’s paid summer internship began in 2009. Its primary focus is to allow college undergraduate students with an interest in medicine to learn about cancer research by working in SCI labs on both the Springfield and Carbondale campuses. The internships are awarded on a competitive basis, (college transcript, a resume and two letters of reference from instructors along with a personal statement letter describing current studies, activities and future goals).  One internship is based on the Carbondale campus; the others are on the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Campus in the SCI research labs.
In the past eight years of the program, 29 students have participated with 13 continuing on to medical school and another seven have applied.  Five interns have been chosen for summer 2017 and started in June.

The program is made possible by funding from Denim & Diamonds, SCI’s premier gala which will be held Saturday, October 14, 2017. Call 217-545-0395 or visit  to learn more about the event and sponsorship opportunities.

The mission of Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU is to serve the people of central and southern Illinois by addressing their present and future cancer needs through education, research, patient care and community service.

Schedule an interview or request more information by contacting SIU Medicine's Office of Public Relations and Communications:

Karen Carlson
Lauren Murphy

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