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UA Trains Next Generation of Cancer Prevention Researchers

Seventeen students from diverse backgrounds completed the first STEP-UP program, a 12-week, paid summer research program in cancer prevention designed for undergraduate and master’s-level students.

Seventeen students from diverse backgrounds completed the first STEP-UP program, a 12-week, paid summer research program in cancer prevention designed for undergraduate and master’s-level students.

The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health has received a $1.25 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to train students from diverse backgrounds in cancer prevention and control research.

Attracting and training a diverse student body in cancer prevention and control research is an area of critical need to help close the gap on cancer health disparities.

The Student Transformative Experiences to Progress Under-represented Professionals (STEP-UP) in Cancer Prevention Program is a 12-week, paid research program that involves direct community engaged research and experiential clinical trial opportunities designed for undergraduate and master's-level students. 

“STEP-UP is unique in its focus on cancer prevention science at the clinical trial to community-based end of the cancer research continuum,” said Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RDN, professor of public health at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and co-lead of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the UA Cancer Center.

The program is a collaboration led by researchers from the College of Public Health and the Cancer Center. A group of 17 students completed the first STEP-UP program in August. The students received a certificate upon completion of the program and a few earned internship credits.

“We are training the next generation of cancer prevention clinicians and researchers through the STEP-UP academic program, which builds on a substantial foundation of efforts to attract and retain a diverse student body in cancer prevention and control research, an area of critical need,” Dr. Thomson added. 

The University of Arizona is committed to attracting students from the populations that carry a disproportionate cancer burden — the same ones that are traditionally under-represented in science careers.

The students come from diverse backgrounds including, underrepresented, disadvantaged, nontraditional or first-generation college students, and students that attend schools with limited research opportunities. 

"The STEP-UP program allows us to introduce students from underserved communities to the opportunities that exist for careers in cancer prevention research," said UA President Robert C. Robbins, M.D. "We know that cancer impacts various populations differently, and minority groups in the United States continue to bear a greater cancer burden. The University of Arizona supports research to help understand barriers to health care and create strategies for overcoming them, and I am very excited by what this grant will make possible for our students and for the communities we serve." 

STEP-UP uses resources across the University of Arizona Health Sciences campus, including the UA Collaboratory for Metabolic Disease Prevention and Treatment. During the program, students acquire a broad range of research skills including body composition assessment, biomarker evaluation, health assessment, qualitative and quantitative research methods and training in behavior theory and intervention methodology. 

Students are matched with faculty mentors from the UA Colleges of Medicine-Tucson, as well as the UA Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This summer, the students participated in community-engaged research under the mentorship of public health faculty members Robin Harris, PhD, professor of epidemiology, and David Garcia, PhD, assistant professor of health promotion sciences. In addition, the students participated in systematic reviews, a type of research study that collects and looks at multiple studies to answer one or more cancer prevention questions, under the mentorship of John Ehiri, PhD, professor and chair of the UA Department of Health Promotion Sciences.

Dr. Thomson said that the evaluation of the first year’s program suggests STEP-UP students are expanding their knowledge, attitudes and even self-reported health behaviors in relation to cancer prevention and control research and practice.

The application process for the summer 2019 program will begin in January. For questions and information about the STEP-UP training program, please contact Karen Dickeson at or (520) 626-2639. 

Funding for the program comes from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant No.: 1R25CA217725-01


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