Seton Hill Students are First Undergraduates to Present at Cancer Research Conference

Dr. Elizabeth Repasky Subjeck, Vice Chair of the Department of Immunology at Roswell Park Cancer Center in New York., was scouring the internet looking for undergraduate science programs that were working in high schools when she came across an article about a place very familiar to her - Seton Hill.

Dr. Subjeck mentors doctoral students conducting cancer research, and she has been concerned about the nationwide decline in applications to Ph.D. programs in health-related research. 

Dr. Subjeck, a Seton Hill Distinguished Alumna, learned how Seton Hill students were preparing and teaching hands-on science lessons at a number of schools throughout the Pittsburgh region through the Future Scholars Program created by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Amalene-Cooper Morgan.

She immediately reached out to Dr. Cooper-Morgan about ways Seton Hill could partner with Roswell Park to encourage students to pursue graduate work in cancer research. 

As a result, four Seton Hill students had the opportunity to present their research at a yearly meeting of cancer researchers - the Translational Research Cancer Centers Consortium - that takes place near Greensburg at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. At this year’s conference, nearly 230 graduate students, faculty and postdoctoral fellows from 13 cancer centers, including Roswell Park and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, attended.  

Seton Hill was the first institute to be invited to send undergraduates who are interested in careers in medicine and/or research to present at the conference.  

“The Seton Hill students were remarkably professional, explaining their posters to many who stopped by, and I was very proud of, and impressed by, their professionalism,” Dr. Subjeck said.  “Dr. Cooper Morgan and I hope to make this an annual event, as a mechanism to increase interest in cancer research as a career by Seton Hill students.”

“We are dedicated to increasing interest among undergraduates who may be interested in a career in cancer research and applying to Ph.D. graduate programs,” Dr. Subjeck added.. “It is also important to increase awareness and interest in students who come from more diverse backgrounds.  Dr. Cooper Morgan and her colleagues at Seton Hill have recently been awarded a very competitive NSF grant that will build increased numbers of undergraduates in STEM majors, including students who may come from non-traditional backgrounds. We want to take advantage of this initiative and introduce these students to graduate degree programs leading to the Ph.D. degree in cancer research.”

The students - Allie Sheffler, Sarah Semekoski, Desiree Saether and Abby Zuder - presented posters on a variety of topics - ranging from Alzheimer’s Disease to the effects of nicotine on mouse lung cells.

“The conference was unlike anything else I have ever done throughout my time at Seton Hill,” Semekoski said. “The level of scientific knowledge that the other attendees and presenters had was nothing short of spectacular and mildly intimidating. … This conference to me was a huge learning experience and a chance for me to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was an opportunity for me to look at the realm of science that is dedicated to research and how one small discovery can lead to something much larger.”