Applications for oncology program for underserving students now open

Feb. 9—OKLAHOMA CITY — The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has announced a new program that will bring in four individuals interested in oncological research to prepare them for graduate school.

The center has partnered with the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center to launch the STRONG program, funded by the American Cancer Society through a three-year grant of $660,000.

The four trainees accepted will receive a $35,000 annual stipend as part of the two-year program.

Priority will be given to individuals from underrepresented minority groups, which include people from different racial and ethnic groups, first-generation college students and people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Individuals must have completed a bachelor's degree before applying.

Rajagopal Ramesh, professor in the Department of Pathology at the OU College of Medicine and associate director of Cancer Research Education and Training at the Cancer Center, said many students finish their bachelor's degree but are not quite ready to enter a doctoral program or medical school because they lack professional experience or a required class.

"Most colleges would require elements beyond grade point average," Ramesh said. "You need to have additional structured activities, which includes research."

He said this program is for students who want to get a Ph.D. in a biomedical field, as well as those who want to work in a clinical field, which would require a medical degree.

"An issue is that not many individuals are entering a cancer or oncology-focused field," he said.

Ramesh said it isn't uncommon for people from underserving backgrounds to change career paths after they have graduated from their bachelor's degrees.

"There are individuals who finished their bachelor's program and suddenly became interested in cancer because someone in their family was affected," Ramesh said.

He said a lot of students have gaps in their transcripts that would otherwise disqualify them from certain graduate school programs. However, the STRONG program will allow students to take classes at OU that will go on their transcripts which will strengthen their graduate school applications.

"The goal is to provide an opportunity to these individuals who are at a disadvantage," Ramesh said. "If someone says, 'I need biochemistry to go to medical school,' and they haven't taken biochemistry in their undergraduate program, they will be able to do so, and we'll provide them with tuition and fees to attend the course on campus."

Students will put 75% of their focus on doing cancer or oncological research, and 25% will be taking classes that will enhance them to other kinds of education that will help them to progress toward their next big career goal.

Applications to the program are now open, and it will begin on Aug. 1, 2024 and conclude by July 31, 2026.

Brian King covers education and politics for The Transcript. Reach him at