Building Steps 2 STEM

June 13, 2023

Cancer Center and Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center collaborate on summer program for local high school students


The University of Arizona Cancer Center collaborated with the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, to assist teaching their Steps 2 STEM program on June 1-2, at the Health Sciences and Innovation Building. This initiative is a four week research experience for high school students participating in Pima County Joint Technical Education District’s Biotechnology or Health Care Foundations programs. 


A high school student interacts with a helix diagram.

During the experience, the interns have two days of science literacy training before working with professionals in several STEM-related career fields across the University of Arizona.  The Cancer Center’s office of Community Outreach and Engagement assisted with administering the coursework, which included identifying the hallmarks of cancer, understanding the flow of genetic information, and modeling a 2D representation of DNA replication. The curriculum was developed by the Cancer Center’s Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination Office as part of its outreach efforts to high school students. 

"Opportunities like these are vital for introducing students to the vast possibilities within STEM fields," said Mayra Vargas, Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center program coordinator. "Many of our students have never even considered a career in science until they participated in our program. We want to showcase the numerous career paths available and provide them with a kind of a stepping stool into their careers." 


Steps 2 STEM impact

The program not only offers a look at what is attainable in STEM fields, but it also gives students a hands-on experience and instills a newfound confidence in their abilities. "The program helps us get a better understanding of the medical field, which is so unique compared to other subjects,” said Esteban Ramirez, Tucson High School student. "I also like how it introduces us to subjects and ideas that we'll come across in college. It's such a valuable advantage, and it's truly helpful in preparing us for what's ahead."


Esteban Ramirez

The impact of this internship opportunity is significant, and part of a larger commitment to providing career development opportunities for the next generation of cancer researchers and health professionals. 

"Collaborating and establishing connections with organizations like this is essential,” said Lizzie Hull, Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center program coordinator. 

“STEM fields can appear intimidating, especially topics like cancer research that may carry a daunting connotation. For students, many are interested but unsure where to begin. This was a great starting point to break it down and turn it into a fun and engaging activity." 


Lizzie Hull

Vargas highlighted that every year, numerous students express their interest in cancer research. If any cancer researchers or graduate students are interested in hosting or mentoring within this program, please reach out to the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center. 

Through their assistance with the Steps 2 STEM program, the COE team is helping pave the way for a new generation of aspiring scientists and healthcare professionals, inspiring them to pursue paths they may one day be a part of.