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San Antonio Program Boosts Number Of Latino Students Seeking PhDs In Cancer Research


A new study finds a San Antonio program designed to inspire Latino students to pursue doctoral degrees and to work in cancer research is having measurable success.

Growing up, Rosalie Aguilar saw hard working people all around her.

"I grew up in Laredo, Texas, along the border. Not a very big city,” Aguilar said. “There are a lot of migrant farm workers. But outside of that, there are certain industries in Laredo: education (and) law enforcement. Most people stick to a certain profession."

Aguilar never pictured herself as a professor or a researcher. But Aguilar is now going for her doctorate in translational science at UT Health San Antonio. She credits the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program.

"Being a part of Éxitoshowed me there was a lot more out there — a lot more opportunities — and that I might be able to bring back some of this into my community."


Éxito Director Amelie Ramirez said that's precisely why the program exists.


Credit Bonnie Petrie / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Doctoral candidate Rosalie Aguilar discusses the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program with program coordinator Arely Perez and director Amelie Ramirez.

"Our main mission is to encourage Latinos who are going into cancer research to further that research along, but at this point we are encouraging anyone to go into any fields in a doctoral program," Ramirez said.

Ramirez said Latinos hold only 6 percent of the doctoral degrees in the U.S., but Éxito is starting to grow that number.

"Our numbers stand at now about 170 people who have completed our institute, and over 40 of them have enrolled in a doctoral program,” she said. “About eight of them have recently completed their doctoral degree."

Aguilar said participating in the program, where she met those with a similar background and life experience, changed the trajectory of her career.

"I had never really met so many researchers that were Latino, so hearing about the challenges that they faced growing up — and even as academics becoming professors and researchers — I think that helped me see if they were able to overcome some of these challenges that I might be able to do the same," she said.

During the period of time in a study recently published in the Journal of Cancer Education, 43 percent of Éxito program alumni applied to a doctoral program. That is nearly double the rate for a similar program in San Francisco that targets students of all minority populations, not just Latino students.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at bonnie@tpr.org or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie