The Center for Applied Molecular Medicine (CAMM) at the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine hosted its seventh annual Junior Fellows program from June 14 through June 30. The program aims to foster scientific achievement for rising high school seniors interested in clinical or research oncology by challenging them to thinking critically in a hands-on laboratory environment.

“I believe in educating the next generation about science and medicine. We need new human capital to fight disease,” said David B. Agus, MD, professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, founding director of the Ellison Institute, and the director of CAMM. “This program is designed to inspire students to join the fight against cancer and illness.”

Six students from local high schools were selected to join the program based on a combination of factors, including GPA, letters of recommendation and essays about their personal career goals. These students dedicated six hours each day to the program, which introduced them to a broad range of career paths in cancer research.


Multidisciplinary collaborations for education

Because the Ellison Institute emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to fighting disease, the Junior Fellows were educated in the power of collaboration. Throughout the course, they met with a diverse team of scientists working together to overcome cancer, including biologists, mathematicians and physicists from the Keck School, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences. Students also received mentoring in clinical career paths from oncologists and nurses at the USC Norris Westside Cancer Center.

Some of the students voiced their surprise about the many different fields research can encompass. “I didn’t know cancer research could use math, physics, and engineering,” said Jennifer Nguyen of Alhambra High School.

Skylar Long, a Junior Fellow from Saugus High School, agreed. “It (the program) redefined my definition of research and researchers.” She added, “It was a totally different way of thinking … We were not being taught. We were being advised.”


A new way of thinking

Long touched on the topic that Kian Kani, PhD, an assistant professor of research medicine at the Keck School and the lead faculty for the Junior Fellows, feels is the most important aspect of the program.

“The Junior Fellows get to learn a lot about cancer, but more importantly, they are exposed to a new way of thinking and integrating information,” Kani said. “Most students expect to have one ‘right’ answer, often one they have learned by rote memory. In science, however, there may not be one right answer. The students learn how to become comfortable with uncertainty, how to challenge their own thinking, and how to work well as a team.”

This year, the outstanding high school students selected to become CAMM Junior Fellows were: Kelly Bartlett of Santa Monica High School, Will Biederman of Wildwood, Joaquin Garcia of Windward, Skylar Long of Saugus High School, Mia Moreno of Palisades Charter, and Jennifer Nguyen of Alhambra High School. Alumni of the program have become students at some of the nation’s top universities, including USC, to pursue careers in science and medicine.

Applications for the 2018 CAMM Junior Fellows class will be accepted beginning in January. For more information regarding the program, go to

— Autumn Beemer Phillips