Community Outreach and Engagement

Within the five-county area the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center serves, specific racial and ethnic groups have disproportionately higher rates of cancer and death from cancer. The burden of cancer among these groups is related to social deprivation, risk behaviors and environmental exposure.

The UCCCC aims to advance health equity and address disparities through meaningful community outreach and engagement that enhances research, facilitates targeted education, improves linkage to services and influences policy. Our Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity (OCECHE) is the driving force behind these efforts.

In 2022, OCECHE held 80 community events either in person or virtually.

Community Outreach Research and Engagement

The Community Outreach Research Engagement (CORE) program is a National Cancer Institute-funded educational infrastructure to foster community-academic partnership. This program allows scientists to gain effective community engagement and scientific communication skills while helping community members learn scientific principles and research advocacy. The efforts of 33 CORE members were showcased in March 2022 through a three-hour virtual summit on the microbiome, a new and exciting area of scientific discovery in cancer research. Together, CORE’s academic and community participants planned and facilitated the summit together, which attracted 130 attendees. In a post-evaluation survey, 93% of participants indicated that they were satisfied with the summit and were interested in learning more about cancer research.

Community-academic mini grants

OCECHE awarded three mini grants in 2022 to support research projects carried out jointly by a researcher and a community member.

Marcia Tan, PhD, MPH

Marcia Tan, PhD, MPH, is working with Elevated Survivorship to build capacity for African American breast cancer survivors in cancer research.

Wei-Jen Tang, PhD

Wei-Jen Tang, PhD, Peer Plus Education and Training Advocates and the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center have partnered on a project to develop a workforce of cancer researchers and care providers from the local community.

Katie Kurnit, MD, MPH

Katie Kurnit, MD, MPH, and the Black Cancer Collaborative are working together to increase health literacy and agency in Black and Latinx ovarian cancer patients.

These mini grants have led to sustained partnerships among awardees beyond the CORE grant cycle. Together, some have spoken at local and national conferences, written larger grants and developed manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals. One of the mini-grant projects was accepted to present at the annual American Public Health Association meeting in Boston. Additionally, the partnership included mentoring and development of medical students, who helped with the project and presented in Boston.

OCECHE-led local and state cancer education

Throughout the year, the team helped lead cancer education webinars for the Illinois Department of Health and the Chicago Department of Health, in partnership with the University of Chicago Center for Asian Health Equity. The audiences included cancer physicians and clinical staff, survivors, and cancer caregivers, local government and local cancer agencies. OCECHE’s participation supports its mission to inform, facilitate and disseminate relevant research along the cancer continuum via bidirectional engagement of our community of stakeholders. Its specific aims are to engage community and academic partners; engage and foster collaborations with communities to promote cancer education and cancer control; and drive policy initiatives to promote sustainable change, addressing community cancer needs at the local and state levels. Experts from the UCCCC were brought in to speak on topics such as colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and HPV-related cancers.

Community research advisors

Involving cancer patients and community members as partners directly in the research process is a critical component in generating scientific evidence that is useful to patients and, more importantly, trusted.

In 2022, OCECHE recruited experienced community members to provide community perspectives and deepen engagement with each of the UCCCC research programs.

Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer

Kimberly Richardson

Kimberly Richardson

Breast & ovarian cancer survivor

& Cancer

Ramona Burress

Ramona Burress

Breast cancer survivor

Clinical & Experimental Therapeutics

Ivy Elkins

Ivy Elkins

Lung cancer survivor

Cancer Prevention & Control

Nichelle Stigger

Nichelle Stigger

Lung cancer survivor

UCCCC deepens commitment to Chicago State University

For over a decade, the UCCCC has partnered with minority-serving institution Chicago State University (CSU) to increase underrepresented minorities in the healthcare workforce as a mechanism to reduce disparities and advance research pertinent to the community.

In 2022, the UCCCC deepened this commitment and partnership by developing Associate Memberships for CSU faculty to provide research opportunities for them and help better diversify UCCCC’s researcher pool.

The two associate members from CSU are:
George R. Smith Jr., EdD, MPH

George R. Smith Jr., EdD, MPH, Assistant Professor within the Department of Public Health and coordinator of the undergraduate program in public health at Chicago State University.

Yashika Watkins, PhD, MPH

Yashika Watkins, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor in the Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences at Chicago State University.

UCCCC in the community