What is OPTIMUS?
Students (OPTIMUS) is an educational 6 week cancer research internship for high school students at UC San Diego's Moores Cancer Center. Our mission is to increase diversity in the clinical and biomedical research workforce.
Applications for 2019 are now closed and are under review.
We were featured on the news last year. Check it out
The OPTIMUS Curriculum has four main components:
Research, Clinical Experience, Active Learning, and Outreach.
These four fun and exciting components give students an early opportunity to: explore different career paths in oncology and the greater medical field, interact with other students interested in medical science, and learn real-world skills to bring to college and future professions.
Each student will be paired with a faculty researcher and given the opportunity to work in a unique oncology lab over the course of the program. Students will take on responsibilities of a research project, learn laboratory techniques, and practice the scientific method.
Students will learn about clinical oncology by participating in hands-on activities such as learning to suture, working through patient-centered cases on teams, and shadowing professionals.
Each week will involve interactive lectures, activities, and field-trips focused on a specific cancer-related topic. This dynamic environment will allow students to use and develop their problem solving skills, critical thinking, and creativity.
Community outreach is a vital aspect of medicine. Students will have the opportunity to see how doctors and researchers conduct outreach, especially to underserved or at-risk populations. Students will have the chance to work with their mentors to create a meaningful outreach program to present their research findings.
Educational Curriculum by Week
What is cancer?
Types of cancer
What cancer does
What is cancer research?
Rationale/ scientific method
How do we prevent cancer?
What causes cancer
Which ones we can prevent
Challenges/ solutions in preventing cancer
How do we detect cancer?
Biopsy and Pathology
How do we treat cancer?
Career paths to explore
Providers (MD, RN, PA etc.)
Investigation (PhD, MPH etc.)
Systems (MBA etc.)
Support (SW, RD, etc.)
9:00am - 3:00pm
Field Trip to SDSU
Lunch & Lecture
"How we Treat Cancer"
"The Life of a Tumor"
Scavenger Hunt @ Moores Cancer Center
This is an example of what a weekly schedule during the program might look like. The actual times and events will change on a weekly basis based on the lecture components for the week.
Timeline and Logistics
- OPTIMUS will take place Monday through Friday, across six weeks during the summer.
- For the summer of 2019, these six weeks will be July 8, 2019 through August 16, 2019.
- Applications for the 2019 cycle are due March 22, 2019. Applicants who are accepted for the program will be notified by early May.
- Daily transportation to and from students' schools to UC San Diego will be provided.
- Students will be awarded a stipend for participation.
Minority/Underrepresented status is required for OPTIMUS participation. Applicants should identify with one or more of the following criteria:
- African American, Hispanic American, Native American/Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander descent.
- Socioeconomically disadvantaged/low-income background (e.g., participated in the National School Lunch Program).
- Neither parent/guardians graduated from a four-year US college or university.
Age requirement: due to hospital rules for shadowing medical providers, applicants must be 16 years old at the start of the program (July 9, 2019). Students in grades 10, 11, and 12 are welcome to apply.
Eligible Schools: due to transportation limitations, the 2019 program will only be open to students from the following high schools: Crawford, Morse, Hoover, and Lincoln.
Meet the Team
Ekene Akabike, BA
2018 Program Fellow
Ekene Akabike is a medical student at UC San Diego and a member of UCSD School of Medicine's PRIME-HEq (Program in Medical Education - Health Equity). As someone who has multiple identities regarding minority status and under-representation in the fields of medicine and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), she enjoys undergoing activities that provide opportunities to encourage others to pursue their goals and aspirations in areas that need more diverse populations. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, baking, binge-watching the latest Netflix craze, and traveling.
Alexa Azuara, BS
Administrative and Finance Officer
Alexa Azuara, BS, is a UC San Diego graduate where she studied Human Biology. She works as a research fellow and clinical trials coordinator in the department of radiation oncology at UC San Diego. She enjoys working on projects aimed at serving underserved and minority populations. Other interests include traveling, trying new food, and spending time with her son.
James Murphy, MD, MS
Jim Murphy, MD, MS, is an Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at UC San Diego, and he runs a cancer outcomes research laboratory focusing on improving cancer care quality and addressing health disparities, among many other areas of research. Other interests include palliative care, cycling, surfing, and spending time with family.
Daniel Seible, MD
Dan Seible, MD, is a senior radiation oncology resident at UC San Diego with research interests in defining and addressing language disparities in cancer care among the Hispanic underserved. Other interests include outdoor adventures with his wife and two kids, mentoring, surfing, and reading epic fantasy.
Elena Sojourner, BS
Elena Sojourner, BS, is a recent graduate of UC San Diego where she studied Neuroscience and Physiology. She now works as a research assistant in a radiation oncology lab at UC San Diego. She is interested in becoming a physician and doing research to combat health disparities. Other interests include cooking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.
Cristal Vieyra is a first generation junior nursing student at SDSU and is interested in becoming a Nurse Practitioner focused on improving health disparities in patient care. In her spare time, she likes to give back to prospective first generation college students, hike, play volleyball, and spend time with family.
Nic Villaneuva, MD
Hematology/Oncology Curriculum Chair
Nicolas Villanueva, MD is a 3rd year Hematology/Oncology Fellow and Chief Fellow at UC San Diego. His research interests are in clinical investigation of targeted and immune therapies for advanced non-small cell lung cancer. His other interests include coffee, cooking, traveling, and rooting for his favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves.
Team OPTIMUS Leadership Alumni
Robert Casey Mundt
Brand and Web Designer (2017)
Robert Casey Mundt (you can just call him Casey) is a college student working part time in the radiation oncology research lab at UC San Diego. His primary focus as of now is to complete his bachelors degree. His hobbies include working out at the gym, volunteering, and keeping up with the newest games and movies.
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