2019 Fellow: Younus Aqeel
Aqeel is a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. He grew up in Inland Southern California and received his B.S. in Biological Sciences from UC Irvine. Following graduation, he spent a few years teaching and became interested in medicine after becoming involved in research at the USC Keck School of Medicine. In his free time, Younus enjoys watching movies, hiking, being outdoors, exploring Richmond, and traveling abroad with his friends.
Younus’s interest in learning about cancer comes from seeing how curing a patient’s cancer can give him/her their life back. As a first year medical student, Younus is currently unsure of where he will end up but knows that treating patients with cancer requires a multidisciplinary effort from several physicians. “I’m confident that research this summer will teach me how to think about cancer at the cellular level so that I can someday apply this knowledge when treating patients, regardless of which specialty I’m in.” This summer, Younus will be working in the lab of Dr. Devanand Sarkar. Dr. Sarkar’s lab investigates the molecular basis behind hepatocellular carcinoma with the goal of discovering a treatment for this type of liver cancer. Younus’s project involves cloning two genes upregulated in liver cancer, IFI6 and TAF2, into a DNA vector with the goal of transfecting this vector into mice to create a mouse model of liver cancer. “Creating this mouse model will help understand how liver cancer affects a physiological system and guide ideas for therapeutic strategies.”
Younus would like to thank everyone responsible for supporting the James D. Popp Fellowship and contributing to its fund. “I am extremely honored to be a part of this fellowship and for the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution towards cancer research. I’m eager to learn more about Dr. Popp’s legacy and how to embody his resilience and the compassion he had with his patients,” he says.
2018 Fellow: Kelly McCoy
Kelly McCoy is a 2nd year student at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School. She was born in Annandale, Virginia, where she grew up playing soccer, running, and hiking. Kelly has always enjoyed traveling and this led her to Scotland where she obtained her Masters of Arts in Economics and Management from the University of St. Andrews. While a student in St. Andrews, Kelly became an avid soccer player – competing against teams from England and Wales during her career as a Striker. After completing her undergraduate education, Kelly returned to the USA to complete a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program at the University of Virginia before she continued on to medical school.
Due to her non-traditional educational journey, Kelly was eager to get involved in research upon starting at VCU Medical School and particularly interested in breast cancer research. She was drawn to oncology research as a result of a close family member’s battle with breast cancer. Kelly became especially interested in research that was investigating mitigations to lessen the harmful effects of chemotherapy on patients. Her research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center under the instruction of Dr. Harry Bear will attempt to identify biomarkers in residual breast cancer cells that can distinguish aggressive cancers that require additional chemotherapy from those cancers that are less aggressive. Kelly hopes that correlating the presence of a biomarker in residual breast cancer cells could help physicians “personalize” treatment plans for breast cancer patients.
Kelly would like to thank Dr. Jack Haar, The Popp Family, and all those connected with the Ride for Jim Foundation for affording her the opportunity to engage in oncology research this summer. She is humbled to be selected as this year’s James D. Popp Summer Fellow and inspired to continue the legacy of Dr. James Popp who embodied – above all else – an unwavering devotion to his family, friends, and patients. Kelly hopes that she can carry forward the compassion in life and in medicine that allowed Dr. Popp to touch so many around him.
2017 Fellow: Seth Spencer
Seth Spencer is a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University. He grew up in Fort Collins Colorado where he enjoyed camping, weekend adventures with friends, and spending time with his family. While a junior in high school Seth was diagnosed with leukemia. After experiencing various aspects of disease and treatment Seth has been free of cancer and treatment since December 2007. He attended Brigham Young University in Utah. Among the many classes he enjoyed he found those which inspired and excited him the most taught how the mind and body worked—which led him to major in neuroscience. His own experience with cancer and these classes inspired Seth to pursue the field of medicine.
Seth loves being in Richmond and is quickly falling in love with the wonderful outdoor and diverse scene which Richmond has to offer. Seth loves the bike trails along the river and the many delicious places to eat! This summer Seth will be working in the research lab of Dr. Anthony Faber pursuing targeted therapy for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). DIPG is a rare and fatal cancer that effects the brain stem. Seth is very grateful for the advances and care which allow him to be alive today, but also realizes there is still a lot of work to do, and not all people with cancer have the positive outcomes which he experienced. Seth is particularly excited for an opportunity to be a part of the great work that is improving treatment to help others who experience cancer.
Seth would like to thank those who have participated in the Ride for Jim and for those who have made this funding possible. “I am very grateful for this opportunity and trust. I am inspired by the life of Dr. James D. Popp and his dedication as a scholar, physician, athlete, loving family member and friend to all. It is an example I hope to replicate.”
2016 Fellow: Jeffrey Strojny
Jeff Strojny is a first year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University. He grew up in Wilmington, DE and attended the University of Richmond, receiving a B.A. in music and minor in psychology. While in school, he competed as a cross country and track & field athlete, earning all-conference honors. Upon graduating, he decided to stay in Richmond and open a New Balance specialty running and walking shoe store. To enhance his understanding of lower extremity biomechanics, he attended Temple University’s Pedorthic Pre-certification program and subsequently received his degree in Pedorthics from the ABCOP. This spurred Jeff’s interest in healthcare, prompting him to complete VCU’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health Program and later matriculate into the VCU School of Medicine class of 2019.
Jeff’s research background includes working in Dr. Carlos Escalante’s laboratory on viral gene therapy, making headway into using viruses to deliver and integrate DNA vectors into human DNA, thereby restoring lost gene function. Jeff’s interest in cancer research stems from the challenge of fighting such a notorious disease: “Growing up, I remember regarding cancer as a disease that was impossible to cure, and I looked upon the cancer battle with a sense of disbelief. As I learned more about what cancer entails, I began to understand some of the roadblocks, but still couldn’t believe we were often at the mercy of this fateful disease. I have seen the research and I understand the inner-workings of cancer. This is a disease that can be beat; it is far from impossible.”
Jeff would like to thank those that make the James D. Popp Fellowship possible. “Receiving this fellowship is a true honor. It has given me added motivation to contribute meaningful research to the cancer field and continue Dr. Popp’s legacy.” Jeff will be working in the lab of Dr. Harry Bear on adoptive immunotherapy, a promising new avenue of cancer treatment.
2015 Fellow: Stephanie DeMasi
Stephanie DeMasi is a first year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Stephanie grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia as the oldest of five children. She attended VCU where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science in 2014. She was a four-year member of the VCU Field Hockey team and served as captain her senior year. Participating in college athletics taught her how to excel as a leader and how to persevere through trials of physical and mental toughness. She is excited for the opportunity to utilize her work ethic and teamwork ability, in order to make a difference in the field of cancer research.
“I have become particularly drawn to the field of surgical oncology, as it is complex, challenging, and has a certain aspect of ingenuity that I find stimulating. A field that requires roles in both surgery and research will be indisputably challenging, and I cannot imagine a greater reward nor happier place to be in as a future career. Prior to being involved in clinical medicine, this summer offers an exciting opportunity to experience how basic science research makes an unparalleled difference in the world of cancer. I have the honor of working in Dr. Kazuaki Takabe’s laboratory this summer, where considerable contribution has lead to the manifestation of sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) as an important contributor to the tumor microenvironment and cancer progression. Recent research has discovered that animal experiments are addressing the progression and prognosis of the primary breast tumor (orthotopically implanted breast tumor), which is not the case for human breast cancer patients where primary tumors are removed surgically and the prognoses are determined, not by the progression of the primary tumor, but by the recurrence of the tumor or by the development of drug resistance and progression of metastatic lesions. Therefore, the principle goal of my summer research is to establish a murine Radical Mastectomy model that will contribute to the multi-disciplinary context of Surgical Oncology Research.”
Stephanie would like to thank those that made the James D. Popp Fellowship possible. She feels incredibly proud to represent the meaningful memory and life of Dr. Popp. “His life truly put things into perspective and has unquestionably inspired so many individuals around him, including myself. The Student Research Fellowship, leaves a meaningful memory and motivation to those following in his footsteps. The James D. Popp Summer Fellowship adds a tangible element to the many challenges faced by cancer research. This is an extraordinary way to celebrate the life of Dr. Popp, and I wish to continue the ongoing tradition with the integrity, and ambition required.”
2014 Fellow: Ingrid Woelfel
I am a first year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University. I attended middle and high school in Eugene, Oregon before eventually graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and Spanish in 2013. While attending Notre Dame, I was part of the varsity rowing team and eventually qualified for NCAAs my junior and senior year. Athletics were definitely one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience and it was always exciting to represent the university in competition. Now that my collegiate athletics career has ended, I have been having fun with the Crossfit RVA community to keep moving.
I will be working in the lab of Dr. Kazuaki Takabe this summer. his investigation into the action of Sphingosine-1-Phosphate has great potential to contribute to our knowledge of disease mechanisms in the areas of pancreatic and colon cancer. His murine disease model for pancreatic and colon cancer will further elucidate the impact that this molecule has on peritoneal carcinomatosis, a late stage complication of both carcinomas. I am excited to again be working in a team environment, that in this case, will be for the greater purpose of medical research with the goal of ultimately improving patient care.
Biking is one of my favorite hobbies and so I first learned of the James D. Popp after participating in the 2013 Ride for Jim. Learning about his story me of the individuals in my own life who have struggled with cancer. As my first year comes to a close, I know that I have a long journey ahead in discerning my career path, but am definitely considering oncology. It is a field that greatly impacts the lives of patients and our broader community. This summer promises to be a formative experience that will continue to shape my path in medicine. I am extremely humbled to have been chosen as a representative of James D. Popp’s legacy and plan to take full advantage of this learning opportuniy.
2013 Fellow: Jeremy Kalma
Jeremy Kalma is a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. He grew up in Los Angeles, California with his hometown being Long Beach. He attended the University of Southern California (USC) where he received his
Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts (drawing, painting, and sculpture) in 2004. Following graduation, Jeremy worked for several years as a project manager for a real estate developer in Orange County. Despite enjoying his position, he learned he desired a career that utilized his gifts more directly, satisfied his scientific curiosity, and provided a more tangible way of impacting the lives of others. As a result, Jeremy enrolled in USC’s premedical post-baccalaureate program so that he could apply to medical school in order to pursue a career in surgical medicine.
“Following my first year of medical school, I continue to learn about medicine and the career paths it offers as well as myself and my personal goals. My interest in pursuing a career in cancer medicine came primarily as a result of experiencing a loved one’s battle with cancer as well as the subsequent loss of that family member. Although I find the necessary skill, precision, and knowledge to do surgical oncology intriguing, it is the chance to be there for someone at a time in their lives when they are in the most need of assistance that I find most captivating; a time when nothing else matters but one’s own health or the health of a loved one. I have experienced what it is like to be part of a family dealing with cancer; an experience I hope I will never have to go through again. Despite losing someone so close to me and the pain that goes with that loss, my experience with cancer taught me so much, and for that I am grateful. There will undoubtedly be many others who find themselves in situations much like mine. I hope that I can take what I have learned from my experience, research, and training in order to be the best physician possible to those who find themselves on the same road.”
Jeremy would like to thank all of those who make the annual Ride for Jim possible including all of the generous donors. Jeremy also wanted to add, “Since becoming aware of the fellowship, I continue to learn about Jim Popp and the life he led. Hearing about the work ethic, character, and selflessness he demonstrated are a constant reminder of the type of person and physician I aspire to be. I hope I can use this opportunity to continue to honor the legacy of such a remarkable individual.”
2012 Fellow: Hannah Gardner
Hannah Gardner is a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She was born and raised in New Castle, Pennsylvania; however, her family recently moved down to Blacksburg, Virginia. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology at Houghton College with a minor in chemistry and communication. Outside of schoolwork, Hannah’s hobbies include playing sports, being outside, and teaching herself how to play the guitar and banjo. She has enjoyed biking in the past, but she never endeavored a cycling adventure like Ride for Jim until last year’s ride at Rockett’s Landing. It took a good bit of training and some real determination but she was grateful that she was able to participate in the ride this past year, and she looks forward to the ride this year as well. Hannah states that “it was a joy to be able to cycle amongst a group of people who were raising support for a cause such as this, in honor of a remarkable man.”
As a second year medical student, Hannah is unsure of what the future holds for her. She explains that she is “malleable and willing to work anywhere at this point”, and she is interested to see where her medical career takes her. Although she is not particularly drawn to a career in oncology right now, she recognizes that cancer has widespread effects. Whether it be a family member, a friend, or themselves, most people can say that cancer has caused anxiety or pain in their lives in one way or another. Because of this, she has felt lead to participate in activities such as Relay for Life and fundraisers during breast cancer awareness month with her collegiate volleyball team. She was eager to take the next step and use what she was taught in college and medical school to possibly find out something new in the field of cancer research.
Hannah was extremely excited to work for the summer in the Goodwin Research Center. She spent her time researching with Dr. Shirley Taylor doing a project focused on mitochondrial epigenetics in brain tumors. It was an amazing chance for her to work hands on in the lab and learn what research entails. She certainly enjoyed her time researching and looks back fondly upon the experiences that she had there. The project that she was working on has been carried on with other members in the lab, and this will hopefully lead to new answers and a publication someday. Hannah realizes that without the Ride for Jim and its many supporters, she would not have been able to do this kind of research last summer. Therefore, she would like to say thank you and that she is immensely grateful for the James D. Popp Summer Research Fellowship and how it granted her this opportunity.
2011 Fellow: Chris Hong
Chris Hong is a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Born and raised in San Jose, California very close to the heart of Silicon Valley. He attended Santa Clara University where he received a bachelors degree in electrical engineering in 2004 and a masters degree in electrical engineering in 2006. From 2004 to 2010, he worked as an electrical engineer at ITT Corporation, designing and developing high frequency signal intelligence systems for the US military.
In 2005, a close relative was diagnosed with cancer, and it was his arduous journey which ignited his interest in medicine as a career path. He was fascinated by the science of healthcare and the technology of the treatment. He began shadowing physicians and volunteering in hospitals and soon discovered that he sincerely enjoyed interacting with patients and the idea of being able to provide care for people in his community. The following year, he began taking pre-medical courses in the hopes of applying to medical school.
In 2008, he suffered from a disc herniation and sciatica due to a weight lifting injury. Over the next ten months, he endured severe back and leg pain and lost the physical freedoms he once took for granted. For physical conditioning, he took to cycling because he was no longer able to run. He quickly fell in love with the sport. Through cycling, he was able to strengthen his core, improve his fitness, and eventually recover from injury. It was a very difficult time in his life, and it was cycling which enabled his body and spirits to feel whole again.
He was extremely excited when he heard about the James D. Popp Summer Research Fellowship because, not only is it an excellent opportunity for research, but also because it combines two things that have had a profound impact on his life: cancer and cycling. He is extremely honored to have the opportunity to contribute towards the fight against cancer through research. Also, during one not so distant summer, He hopes to participate in the Transamerica Ride for Jim (if his wife lets him) because it is a fun and unique way to promote cancer research while honoring a great man.
2010 Fellow: Kyle Kindley
Kyle Kindley is a medical student at the VCU School of Medicine with aspirations of becoming an oncologist. He was born and raised in Clarksville, Virginia, a small town with approximately 1,200 citizens. Kyle graduated from the University of Virginia in 2009 with a B.A. in Physics. He is an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hobbies including biking, hunting, and fishing. Kyle has biked several trails throughout Virginia, but has never attempted such a daunting feat as the TransAmerica Ride for Jim. However, he did mention that, “the Ride for Jim is truly a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ adventure, and I would be honored to be able to partake in the ride following my residency years. The summer fellowship gives me further inspiration to join the ride and provide fellow researchers the opportunity to perform cancer research due to the helpful contributions afforded by the Ride for Jim.
As a lifelong resident of Southside Virginia, Kyle wishes to return home after studying oncology to serve cancer patients who yearn for the stable establishment of a patient-oncologist relationship. Before starting medical school, he volunteered in many cancer related settings including Relay for Life and the Pediatric Oncology department at the VCU Medical Center. However, the Jim Popp research experience will be his first exposure to the extensive process of cancer research. Despite minimal experience in research, he is very excited to have been awarded the first Jim Popp Summer Research Fellowship. Kyle is currently discussing topics with several researchers at the Massey Cancer Center, and he is hoping to have a project started by this June. He concluded, “I would like to thank all who have graciously donated and volunteered their time to make the Ride for Jim a reality.
Kyle says of his experience: “I was grateful enough to be awarded the Ride for Jim Summer Fellowship award in its inaugural year of 2010. After spending that summer working with Dr. David Williams at the Massey Cancer Center, I was able to learn the tools of the trade of a research laboratory and integrated new trained skills to become a successful researcher. Our research team focused on DNA-protein interaction with a specific oncogene and utilized protein structure mechanics to generate a synthetic protein to interact with the DNA strand. My team was able to make a poster with our data to display at a national genetic conference at the University of North Carolina. We are currently working on a publication, and I hope to continue this amazing journey in the field of research in the future. Also, I am currently in the process of searching for another nationally recognized cancer research conference to further share the knowledge I have gained through this incredible opportunity.”