WAUWATOSA — Tucked away in the heart of the Medical College of Wisconsin, students like Alexia Castillo are busy in the lab, working hard to learn the skills needed to explore the ever-changing world of cancer research.
“I was really interested in research and I knew that that's what I wanted to do, but I didn't start research until my junior year. It just was really hard with the pandemic, getting into a lab. But once I started, I loved it,” said Castillo.
Alexia is one of ten University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students this year getting hands-on training, thanks to a new program that awards a $10,000 scholarship to each of them.
“The program came from this desire to empower students to explore, to take advantage of their curiosity, to find a path that maybe they didn't think they could do or maybe they didn't know was possible and to provide them with the resources they need to support that,” said Dr. Michele Battle, associate professor of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy, Medical College of Wisconsin.
The oldest of five children, Alexia says her love of science started at an early age but her interest in cancer research came after she lost both of her grandfathers to the disease.
“At the time, it was really hard to deal with and kind of understand and process. Just kind of thinking of like, what could have happened, what could have been done better to improve his case? And there really wasn't anything at the time. And I kind of kept that with me growing up,” said Castillo.
Alexia says her journey here was a long one.
She had to take time off between high school and college to save money before she could enroll.
Now a senior in her last semester, Alexia says the money is a welcome blessing as she applies to medical school.
“It's really fortunate that it just works out and applications can be really expensive. So, I'm just very thankful that I got this experience,” said Castillo.
Leaders with the program say that the goal is to not only get them in the lab but keep them here.
“I really feel from the experiences I had in my life, compelled to repay that and compelled to help to bring the next generation of scientists forward. These are the kids who might cure cancer, right? So, we have to invest in them and we have to help them find their way,” said Dr. Battle.
As she continues her studies, Alexia says she's grateful for the opportunity to do what she loves and she hopes others have the same chance.
“For me, it was really applying to things that I thought maybe I didn't have a chance at. That's how I felt with this program. I really didn't think I would be accepted, let alone accepted for this fellowship. But,. definitely keep pushing if it's something you really care about, because it really is worth it in the end,” said Castillo.