Interns Share Their Story

Read about the background, experiences, insights and hopes of some of the students in the Equity Research Program and the Ted R. Lilley CURE Program.

The programs, managed by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, provide hands-on learning opportunities for students who want to pursue careers in health and sciences. Interns selected for the programs are diverse students from underrepresented minority backgrounds, first-generation college students and/or students who have experienced economic or social disadvantages.

Equity Research Program Interns

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Research track: Portland Alcohol Research Center

"It was harder in the beginning. Medford, Mass., was a very white town and didn’t have a lot of black people. There are train tracks that split west Medford and on one side people called it 'brown town' where there are a lot of minorities – people called it in a derogatory way. I grew up in that neighborhood and was grateful because I had a lot of minorities around me. But looking back, it’s a little sad because I’m one of the few people who went to college in my age group. So, I’m thankful to my parents for stressing education on me, making sure we didn’t fall into any type of trap. I remember my dad would bring us to the library – that was a big thing for us - we would read. And he would buy us those math DVDs where you’d watch and do math. That was always super fun for us. So, he took his time to stress how important education was and give us examples of how it changed his life and how it can change our lives."

Willamette University
Research track: Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research

"I've been learning so much this past month. I'm actually more sure of what I want to do now. I wasn't sure whether I want to go into research or medical school, but now I think I definitely want to go into research because of my [OHSU] mentor. She's always so excited and engaged. She wanted ME to be part of the project, and I feel that sense of inclusion really helped me to feel a sense of belonging. Now I feel empowered that I can do research and actually make a difference in the world… to find a cure for cancer and help people who aren't as privileged to access medical resources."

Oregon State University
Research track: School of Dentistry

"I lived in Jerusalem until I was seven years old, when my family moved to the U.S. I didn’t witness any violence directly as a kid, but I saw the aftermath of bombings around Jerusalem. I saw caution tape and rubble and ambulances. It’s strange to go through your days with the possibility of a bombing always at the back of your mind. When sirens went off, we rushed into bomb shelters. I remember the struggle of getting my elderly grandfather down the stairs to the shelter. He was short of breath from heart failure, and he used a wheelchair. It was a panicky feeling, hurrying everyone in there and closing the door as fast as we could. 

I’m never afraid to go back to Israel. I have a strong sense of family and friendship there. At the same time, I feel lucky to be here. My parents sacrificed a lot to bring us here. I was too young to appreciate it at the time, but now I can see that they wanted a brighter future for us."

University of Rochester
Research track: Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research

"I moved back to the U.S. when I was in the 8th grade after being in Korea for a long time. I feel like there were a lot of cultural differences. So, when I went to school, it was very different from my experiences in Korea and it was hard to adjust. But it was interesting because our high school had a lot of international students and they were on an exchange program, and I felt like I could relate to them even though I was a U.S. citizen. So I think those insights inspired me to make a group called the Culture Club - not just help them adjust to the school, but to make sure they have a place in the community. We shared stories of how our lives were like in different countries – and shared cultural aspects. I liked participating in those activities. I was like 'go diversity!' I didn’t have a chance to live with my family in high school – I was close to my family, but they weren’t physically there for me – so I always leaned more on my friends and peers. So, I think that the community in Corvallis and in my high school, especially the Culture Club, helped me develop and grow."

Oregon State University 
Research track: School of Medicine

"I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was 10 years old, and I relapsed when I was 15. Cancer occupied my entire childhood. It doesn’t dominate my life any more, but I keep the memory close enough that it humbles me every day. I don’t want it to just be something that happened to me, and then passed. I want to make something of my experience. I want to be a pediatric oncologist. People say you should do what makes you happy. I get that, but doing it for my own happiness would only take me so far. I don’t want to practice medicine because it’s fun for me. I want to do it to help children with cancer have a future."

Lourdes (Deci)
Portland Community College 
Research track: SPARK at OHSU

"I emigrated from the Philippines with my family when I was 13. It’s exhausting to try to explain my reality to people born into privilege and security. I don’t think they can imagine how much harder I have to work to get the same opportunities they take for granted. Sometimes I feel angry about the systemic exclusion of minorities from privilege. Anger can be unproductive, but it can also be wrong not to be upset. If you have a voice, you should use it. My voice matters because my experience is valid. I’m not just in it for myself. I’m here for every brown woman who deserves a seat at the table."

Bowling Green State University 
Research track: School of Medicine Graduate Studies

"I feel like my family has made a lot of mistakes to a point where I can look at it and say, 'okay, that's not what to do in life.' I don't have to take that route. My dad was in prison for a large portion of my childhood and when he came out, he got addicted to cocaine… and was financial unstable. My parents were divorced. It put me and my brother at a huge disadvantage, so it was rough growing up. But I had other family who cared and helped out. I owe a lot to me being where I'm at to my grandma and my aunts. My parents are individuals who went the wrong path, but I realized that I'm bigger than that – that I have more potential. I've learned that I don't have to follow in their footsteps. It took me a while to realize that. But my aunts, cousins, uncles all said, 'You can go to college. It's possible.'"

University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Research track: School of Dentistry

"Coming from my mom’s side, she’s from Sudan and appearances really matter, like if you acted up in public. They’re not people who are very outspoken. But I grew up to be very outspoken. I remember at one point in high school, I wanted to be upset at something but this person wasn’t from the same background as me, so I was almost scared to get upset or speak my mind because I didn’t want them to assume that I was an ‘angry black woman’ or had anger issues or anything stereotypical like that. I don’t like to hold back so when I felt that pressure that I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, it was really frustrating. It wasn’t until my second year in college when I realized that pressure and it made me much more careful about what I said. So it wasn’t that I couldn’t be outspoken, it’s more the idea that when I do speak, I have to watch my words - say what I mean so it doesn’t get misconstrued."

Ted R. Lilley CURE Program Interns

Lakeridge High School
Research track: chronic myeloid leukemia

"I aspire to be like my mom. She is a single parent and has been a phlebotomist for about ten years. Some days, she tells me not to be like her with I grow up, but I want to be everything she is. My mother came to the States for marriage, and she came here without relatives, without friends, without knowing all 26 letters of the English alphabet. She worked and studied simultaneously, and through her perseverance and strength, she turned the scarcity and scraps the cramped neighborhoods of San Francisco offered from eighteen years ago and built herself an identity. As I got older, there were innumerable pitfalls we went through together, but she shows me it is from these challenges in my values surface, and they are what gives me an identity. I am a first-generation student and ahead of me are unforeseen premises. But I remind myself that if she can do it, I can do it too. What she is today already broke through the many ceilings others assigned her and I am very proud of her. I want to break through my barriers and make both of us proud."

Tigard High School
Research track: prostate cancer

"My dream is to one day become a surgical oncologist. Many of my family members have experienced cancer and some have not survived. I've seen how cancer affects not only the patient, but the entire family. It's devastating. I want to help people and fight cancer because I don't want others to go through the same experiences I did. I'd like to be a part of something that could help change the world. 

I'm humbled to be a part of the CURE Program. It's not often that people my age get the opportunity to work in labs and get hands-on learning. My mentor makes me feel like I'm part of their team and everyone is always willing to help me with anything I have trouble with. Sometimes we all go out to have lunch together. It's a special memory that I'll always have with me."

Liberty High School
Research track: nanotechnology cancer care

"My goal is to become a neurosurgeon and I hope to provide compassionate care to my patients, particularly those who are underrepresented. My family is ethnically Cambodian and Chinese. When we lived in Houston, Texas, we had a general doctor who spoke Khmer - the Cambodian language - and Mandarin. I believe having this type of cultural and linguistic connection to patients is vital to being able to treat them with compassion. It gives a sense of comfort to know the person who is tasked with providing your care has a similar cultural background."

Tigard High School
Research track: pediatric endocrinology

"Some people think science is cold, like there's not a lot of heart in it. To me, sciences brings so much hope. In some ways, we know so much - you can go to a book and find the answer. But there's still so much we don't know and still so much to discover. To me, that's so motivating and exciting to think about being part of what's to come. 

I've gained so much knowledge and motivation fro my experience in the CURE Program. The people I've been working with have shown me not just how to do procedures and what to do in the lab, but life stuff, too. It's really helped me imagine where I want to be in the future and how to make it happen."

Hillsboro High School
Research track: cancer imaging

"One of my happiest memories I have is spending summers with my brother. We'd start riding our bikes from the time our parents got home until it was dark all summer long. We would race each other and scare each other. We had so much fun. He was only a year old than me and passed away when he was 16. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for my brother.

My brother had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. When he passed away, I was dumbfounded that not a single treatment was capable of curing a common cancer. I questioned everything and it made me want to know why this type of cancer couldn't be cured in him when the treatment had cured others. It sparked my interest in cancer research."

Liberty High School
Research track: solid tumor

"I've had some big moments in my life recently. I graduated from high school and I'm the first in my family to do so. I just had my college orientation. guess it means I'm approaching the real world soon.

Back in middle school, I struggled in science and my counselors said to avoid science classes in high school. It's a good thing I didn't take their advice. I had a great teacher who encouraged me and provided a lot of guidance and opportunities that helped me find health sciences. It's fascinating to learn how everything in science intertwined. It feeds my intellectual curiosity and I'm going to study biochemistry in college this fall."

Reynolds High School
Research track: prostate cancer

"Helping others became a big part of my life after a doctor only wanted money and did not provide me with proper care. It was a simple broken leg, but the only doctor whom I could depend on at that time in Vietnam manipulated my family for money. Had it not been close to when my family moved to America, I wouldn't have been able to walk again. The doctor in America treated me without taking any money because he valued my health more and understood that my family did not have enough, as we were newcomers to the country. After that experience, I decided to become a healthcare provider. I do not want any more children to go through what I did in Vietnam and personally deliver quality care to patients."

David Douglas High School
Research track: nanotechnology cancer care

"I’m particularly interested what we cannot see with our naked eyes—it’s a fascinating world under the microscope. This is the second year in the CURE Program and it has changed the way I see things. It has opened my mind and motivated me to explore and build my skills in different areas like establishing connections with people and being able to work independently. It also helps me support my family financially."

Oregon Islamic Academy
Research track: abnormal gene inactivation

"I've always wanted to help others and the medical field is a great way to do that. But I'm also drawn to this field because you don't often see people like me represented and I'd like to help change that. I'm Muslim, I'm black, and I'm a woman. I didn't really have a role model until I got older and when I did, my role model was a male. I'd like to be a role model for young girls everywhere. I want to inspire young girls to become involved in opportunities that society discourages them from, such as curing cancer patients. I want to prove that a hijab wearing woman can do anything a non-Hijabi can. I want young girls and women to know that they can pursue their dreams no matter what anyone tells them."

Watch this video

Watch this video of Equity Research and CURE interns talk about their experiences at OHSU research lab and clinical settings during their internship.