“It definitely opened our eyes
to another whole side; we never
thought any of us would be working in
pharmaceuticals or anything like that,”
Torman said. “It was interesting to see a
different perspective and be working in
something that had actual potential to
change people’s lives.”
As part of the STEM program,
students are required to work in teams
to develop business plans and solutions
for real-world problems over a course
of several five-week projects. The Avon
Breast Cancer Startup Challenge was
one of those projects.
“It added a complete new perspective
to our five-week projects because
most of us complain about the petty
things like having to do this project
and present, but this project took less
than five weeks and we came out with
so many results,” Torman said. “It was
an entire new level of work that we had
done. It made us see that we are capable
of so much more than we think we
Each of the UA teams was made up
of three to four students as well as a
seasoned biomedical entrepreneur, an
experienced biomedical researcher and
an attorney experienced in patent law.
Most of the students said they saw the
competition as an opportunity to get
involved and gain experience, but for
others it hit close to home.
“I have had relatives die of cancer,”
sophomore Christian Shannon said.
“I’ve always shared a passion for the
battle against cancer. Mine was not
specifically breast cancer, but there is
a history of colon cancer in my family.”
During the summers, Shannon
works at a camp with children who
are battling cancer. He said his dream
job is to be an oncologist at St. Jude
Children’s Research Hospital.
“They are some of the most
inspirational, humble and bold kids on
the face of the earth,” he said. “A lot of
the kids at the camp are told they will
not be alive next year, and so any chance
I can get to fight cancer is something I
want to be a part of.”
For freshman Sheela Kailasam, the
timing of the project made her even
more interested in joining a team.
“My great aunt died right before
we were offered the project,” she said.
“I also was involved in a breast cancer
project my senior year in high school.
After that, I became really interested
in breast cancer research and started
researching treatments on my own.
For freshman Michael Royko, his
mother is a nurse, and one of his
relatives had a jaw removed because
of cancer. Royko started work this past
summer with a chemistry professor to
begin research on colon cancer.
Each of the students had different
reasons for getting involved in the
challenge, but all of them said they
now have a deeper understanding and
appreciation for medical research.
Sophomore Rachel Ramey said she
learned just how much time is involved
in making a product readily available.
“I was surprised at how much
goes into taking a drug from the point
of research until it’s commercially
available,” Ramey said. “It can take 8-10
years. Realistically, it’s not going to be
that one day somebody discovers a cure
for cancer in the lab, and that’s the cure
for cancer. There’s a whole lot more that
goes into it.”
“Dreaming big, looking big but
having the humility to accept failure
when you know that you’ve gone too
far with something” is what Shannon
said he learned from the experience.
“All these teams here today were the
Davids in the David and Goliath story.
We were the only undergrad teams in
the competition versus graduate teams.
We set our aspirations high, and we had
a lot of energy compared to the other
teams, but at the end of the day it was a
great learning experience.”
“This was probably one of the most
meaningful experiences that we’ve had
in STEM,” he added.
Although the UA teams did not
advance to the final round, one team has
an investor interested in its technology,
and a second team has been encouraged
by a Pacific Northwest company to
develop and market their product..
“IT DEFINITELY OPENED
OUR EYES TO ANOTHER
WHOLE SIDE; WE NEVER
THOUGHT ANY OF US
WOULD BE WORKING IN
ANYTHING LIKE THAT. IT
WAS INTERESTING TO SEE
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
AND BE WORKING IN
SOMETHING THAT HAD
ACTUAL POTENTIAL TO
CHANGE PEOPLE’S LIVES.”