Youth Enjoy Science (YES) Grant Brings Diversity to Cancer Research

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in partnership with the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, was awarded a five-year grant, totaling $2.5 million to engage underrepresented minorities in Cleveland-area schools in cancer research.

The Youth Enjoy Science (YES) Program, supported by the National Cancer Institute, is the first and only program at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine to provide a comprehensive and integrated approach to cancer research training, spanning middle school, through high school, and extending to college undergraduates.

“There is currently a deficit in minorities engaged in scientific research,” said Nathan A. Berger, MD, principal investigator and director of the Center for Science, Health and Society at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “Through the YES program, we aim to interest students in cancer research careers and to give them a sense of self confidence to speak scientifically to their colleagues. The number of outstanding research labs we have here at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center truly makes the program possible.”

The YES program has a variety of goals including engaging underrepresented minorities in Cleveland to participate in exciting cancer education and research immersion opportunities in partnership with Case Comprehensive Cancer Center faculty. The program also develops an educational curriculum to cultivate interest in cancer research, risk reduction, disparity elimination and long term pursuit of careers in cancer research.

About 40 high school students are expected to enroll in the program this year. In order to participate, students will fill out an application indicating their research interest, the college or university they hope to attend, and what type of research they wish to be involved in. Then, they meet with faculty and guidance counselors who match them with the best suited labs for their interests.

The hope is to expand the program to not only include high school students, but also to interest middle school students, teachers, and eventually college students as it continues to grow. Additional youth programs currently in place at the medical school include the Scientific Enrichment and Opportunity Program (SEO), developed to partner high school students with medical school faculty to engage in biomedical research and supported in part by the Young Scientist Foundation (YSF).

“I joined the SEO program, because I like doing scientific experiments—for instance mixing chemicals; it’s my favorite part of the program,” said Gile Nzitunga, a student of Glenville High School. “The main focus of my research [this year] was to screen a panel of 22 antibodies to find additional antibodies that would detect Cell Migration Inducing Protein (CEMIP) immunohistochemistry in colon cancer.”

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), like many ethnically diverse and economically challenged urban school districts across the country, is faced with multiple academic challenges as well as poor socioeconomic conditions. The YES program will extend the scientific capacity of participating CMSD schools.

Participating CMSD schools include Glenville High School; James Ford Rhodes High School; John F. Kennedy High School; Facing History New Tech High School; Cleveland School of Science & Medicine at John Hay; as well as area schools including Shaker Heights High School; University School for Boys; and Hathaway Brown School for Girls.

Initial programs for middle school students will be developed with the Bolton School, located in the heart of Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood, which will partner with the medical school to introduce students and their families to biomedical science and to foster healthy lifestyles.

“Case Western Reserve School of Medicine has made it a point to go out of their way to provide students with a strong support system, and our various youth programs will help the University achieve diversity in its own undergraduate population,” said Berger, who is also a professor of medicine, biochemistry, oncology and genetics at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “In addition to developing individuals and providing students with career guidance, we also foster community development by providing appropriate training to staff biotechnical firms in the Cleveland area. In this sense, the program is a constant cycle of interesting students in research while giving back to the Cleveland community.”


Co-investigators on the program include Monica Webb Hooper, PhD; Goutham Narla, MD, PhD; and Mark W. Jackson, PhD. Collaborators on the program include Cynthia Owusu, MD, ChB, MS; Folashade Otegbye, MB, ChB, MPH; Natalie Joseph, MD; and Damian J. Junk, PhD.

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