Selected Speeches

UMB CURE Scholars

Oct. 28, 2014
University of Maryland BioPark


Good morning! I’m Jay Perman, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and it’s wonderful to welcome you here today.

We’ve gathered to announce a very exciting grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. The grant funds a program that will put talented, curious students from West Baltimore on a path to rewarding, good-paying careers in cancer-related health care and research.

The UMB CURE Scholars Program is a partnership between UMB and the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. Together, we’ll identify middle school students in West Baltimore who are interested in science and health care, and we’ll offer them a structured series of programs and opportunities―over several years―that develop their interest in science and open doors to the best jobs in biomedicine.

This pilot program is based on the National Cancer Institute’s highly successful CURE Scholars program, which is increasing the number of cancer researchers from underrepresented groups. The national program provides a continuum of support and professional guidance to students―all the way from high school to their first academic appointment. As I said, it’s been successful in diversifying the ranks of cancer scientists and clinicians.

But we know that we need to start even earlier than high school. If we really want to get students ready for these careers―competitive, demanding careers―we need to reach them early, certainly no later than middle school. And we need to offer them that same kind of structured support that the older scholars get.

And we have to involve everyone who influences these children: their parents and caregivers, their teachers, their clergy, their neighborhood leaders, the organizations and people in their communities who provide outreach and services.

So the UMB CURE Scholars program will build on already-strong partnerships we’ve developed with the Mayor’s Office, with West Baltimore schools, churches, and neighborhood associations, so that we have this critical mass of people who are actively building and strengthening this pipeline of talent—who are supporting students in what will be a rigorous, years-long program.

We have some of these partners here with us today.


From the Mayor’s Office, we have Assistant Deputy Mayor for Health, Human Services, Education, and Youth Vu Dang. Mr. Dang, I know we have the same goals for the youth of Baltimore City, and I look forward to working with you―and with Mayor Rawlings-Blake―to open up all kinds of possibilities for the city’s children.

From the Baltimore City Public Schools, we have Rudy Ruiz, executive director of Secondary Education Services, and Michael Thomas, director of Learning to Work. Gentlemen, we look forward to partnering with you, your students, and teachers, and principals in West Baltimore and developing a world-class pipeline program.

I actually met with Baltimore City Schools CEO Gregory Thornton yesterday. Dr. Thornton is disappointed that he couldn’t be with us today, but he wanted me to convey to all of you how excited he is about this program―and how much he looks forward to enrolling our first class of UMB CURE Scholars.

From Baltimore City Community College, we have Amrita Madabushi here with us. Through her work with the college’s Life Sciences Institute―headquartered right here in the UMB BioPark—Dr. Madabushi connects college and high school students with real-world experiences in life sciences and biotechnology.

Dr. Madabushi has brought along a group of students from BCCC. It’s really wonderful to see all of you and to know that Baltimore’s corps of talent is strong―and ready to do great things.

Reducing Cancer Disparities

It’s so important that we get students of color into science and healthcare—not just because access to good-paying jobs lifts up families and transforms communities, though it certainly does.

But there’s another reason a diverse health sciences workforce is so critical. Chronic diseases―including cancer―ravage communities like West Baltimore. Cancer diagnoses and deaths are higher in Baltimore than they are statewide. In fact, the cancer mortality rate among the city’s African-American residents is nearly 50 percent higher than the rest of the state.

We need people of different races and ethnicities to pursue biomedical research and clinical training. We need people of different socioeconomic backgrounds to pursue biomedical research and clinical training. We need our population of health scientists and health professionals to better reflect the populations of people affected by diseases like cancer.

Because this is how you reduce the significant disparities we have in this country―and this city―in terms of healthcare delivery and health outcomes. This is how you improve the health of populations hardest hit by chronic disease.

The students in our schools right now―and the ones who will come after them—they can play a huge role in slowing or stopping the cancer epidemic that’s happening right now in their own neighborhoods. They can be the ones to say, “I want to cure cancer.” And then actually do it. I hold out that hope. I know you hold out that hope.

Maybe you noticed we have some students with us today in their white coats. Could all the students from the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy please stand? Thank you. We’re so glad you’re here.

Vivien T. Thomas offers students a rigorous academic program in health, math, and science—and prepares them for careers in health care and research. These students are the future of health care in Baltimore. And we want to get more students just like them into this pipeline and onto a path to high-demand jobs in biomedicine.

I have to admit that part of me is selfish, too. I want these smart, curious, driven students to one day come to UMB for their training. I want to see how they’ll change the landscape of cancer research and care. I want to watch them rewrite what’s possible in terms of disease treatment and eradication. And I want them to make our neighborhoods better for all of us.

Acknowledgements/Program Staff

Before I tell you a little more about the grant program and what kinds of activities we might undertake, I want to acknowledge some people who’ve made this program possible.

Dr. Sanya Springfield is here with us this morning. Dr. Springfield is director of the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. Dr. Springfield, we’re grateful not only for your support, but for your visionary work in population health. With this program, we hope to advance the terrific progress you’ve made nationwide with the CURE Scholars program.

Dr. Kevin Cullen will serve as principal investigator on this grant.

Dr. Cullen is a professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. The Greenebaum Cancer Center has an enormous presence in this community, with rich research and outreach programs dedicated to reducing cancer disparities in Baltimore. They’re doing pioneering work every day. Dr. Cullen is regretfully out of town and couldn’t join us today, but we’re so grateful for his leadership.

Dr. Bret Hassel will serve as program liaison.

Dr. Hassel is an associate professor of microbiology and immunology in our School of Medicine, and part of the Greenebaum Cancer Center’s Program in Oncology. Over his career, Dr. Hassel has mentored more than 50 high school and undergraduate interns, as well as graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. And he’s often honored for his extraordinary teaching skill. Dr. Hassel will draw on this deep experience to help identify faculty and student mentors, match them with our UMB CURE Scholars, and evaluate program effectiveness.

Mr. Brian Sturdivant will serve as the program’s community liaison, establishing the robust initiatives we’ll be planning for the scholars.

Mr. Sturdivant is with the University’s new Office of Community Engagement. For years, he’s been one of our most visible, most active leaders in creating and strengthening community partnerships, especially in the West Baltimore neighborhoods where this program will operate. Mr. Sturdivant will build on these close relationships and the mentoring programs we already have in place to make sure the UMB Scholars Program hits the ground running.

Ms. Elsie Stines will serve as program consultant.

Ms. Stines is a pediatric nurse practitioner with the University of Maryland Medical Center, and my colleague in pursuing special projects. For years she’s worked closely with me on pipeline initiatives focused on guiding young students into health care and biomedical research careers. She’ll serve as a critical bridge between the educators who will design the program’s curriculum and the health professionals who will actually deliver that curriculum through hands-on activities.

I thank all of you for your commitment to this program, to these scholars—and to a stronger, healthier West Baltimore.

Program Components

The $750,000 we received from the National Cancer Institute funds two years of activities.

In the first year, we’ll plan the components of the pilot program. As an important first step, we’ll study the successes—and failures—of existing STEM career pipeline programs, especially those that start at the middle school level. And we’ll identify resources that the city and the University already have in place to help these scholars.

As I said, we’ll build on strong relationships with the Baltimore City Public Schools, the Mayor’s Office, Associated Black Charities, the Downtown Partnership, our community churches, Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities, and many others. Through town halls, we’ll gather input from students, their parents, community and faith leaders, and neighborhood associations so that, together, we can shape the program’s design and implementation.

And then, in Year 2, starting fall 2015, we’ll identify the first cohort of UMB CURE Scholars. Of course, we don’t know which schools will be participating yet, as we’re just now embarking on the planning phase. But we envision having about two dozen students enrolled from West Baltimore middle schools.

We’ll engage these students in a continuum of career development activities, like Saturday programs, where they’ll get hands-on experience in basic science through laboratory experiments. The students will visit the campus regularly to learn about careers in health care and cancer research. Evening events will teach cancer literacy, and allow the scholars to interact with researchers and graduate students. A STEM summer camp on the UMB campus could provide intensive and engaging science education.

We’ll fold in the programs we already have in local schools—mentoring programs, campus visits and tours, science festivals, after-school programs focused on college and career exposure, and high school biomedical internships mentored by University faculty.

We’ll work with parents and caregivers to address what they need—better health care, social services, education and job training—so that their children have the best possible shot at success.

And, eventually, the UMB CURE Scholars themselves will mentor younger students to introduce them to the program, and keep building this health careers pipeline—all the way back to the earliest grades.


This is such an exciting opportunity to advance our work in the community, to leverage our partnerships with city schools and community leaders, and to give students a clear, supported pathway into high-wage, high-reward health careers.

Again, I thank the National Cancer Institute for seeing the tremendous potential of our program. And I thank all of you for coming out to celebrate the promise of what we can accomplish together.

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