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Talent is Universal. Opportunity Is Not.

RisingStars_MDAnderson
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

For the last three decades, Elizabeth L. Travis, Ph.D, FASTRO, has been at the forefront of advocating for the advancement of women and minority employees. Serving as the associate vice president for Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion and Mattie Allen Fair Professor in Cancer Research at The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Travis is committed to creating an inclusive environment that encourages growth and creates opportunities for leadership positions. She also is one of the founding partners of the University of St. Thomas Rising Stars Internship Program in Houston.

Dr. Travis began her career at the cancer center, first as a distinguished biomedical scientist in the area of radiation oncology. “I ran a research lab for many years,” she said, “and as a scientist, I spent a great deal of my time teaching and training.”

Working early on for equity and promotion for women

From her experience, she found an interest in working for equity and promotion for women within MD Anderson. Dr. Travis spent several years advocating and spearheading initiatives that truly enacted change in recruitment, retention and mentoring. In 2007, she was approached for a position within Women Faculty Programs, an office focused on advancing women. “I applied for the position and, when I took the job, I hung up my lab coat.”

That opportunity resulted in the Office for Women and Minority Inclusion. 

“More than 50 percent of today’s medical students are women,” she explains, “and science as a discipline over the years has developed a fairly sturdy pipeline for women, but the same isn’t true for minority women.”

MD Anderson is dedicated to creating equal opportunities for students exploring a career in science and medicine and hosts many programs that nurture students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. “Talent is universal; opportunity is not,” Travis said. 

Rising Stars created yet another pathway for underserved students

When Dr. Travis received a call in the summer of 2019 about UST’s Rising Stars Internship Program, she quickly agreed that this would create yet another pathway for talented, diverse students to find their way into the medical industry. The unique program gives first-generation and lower-income students access to an outstanding university while working for a partner such as MD Anderson and earning their degrees. 

“Not only do the students become college graduates, but they are exposed to the professional workplace and, upon graduation, are job-ready. This also gives us, as employers, a chance to see them in the professional setting and be in a very good position to hire an outstanding employee.” Travis said. 

A Rising Star getting hands-on experience

One of the Rising Stars interns at MD Anderson is Galilea Nunez, a junior at UST, has worked three consecutive school years in the Department of Pediatrics for Dr. Martha Askins, who has only praise for her.

“As Galilea observes and experiences the dynamics of how children’s hospitals work and our approach to our patients from an emotional perspective, she has matured beyond her years, confident and eager to see how we support families and children with such a serious diagnosis.”

It’s important to Dr. Askins that Nunez truly gets hands-on experience so she can determine if child psychology is the career she is interested in pursuing. Nunez has opportunities to participate in family visits, where she observes, identifies issues and problem solves with families working through challenges. 

Dr. Askins is enthusiastic about the Rising Stars growth.

“Many students go through their entire college experience, searching for their passion. Galilea was committed to child psychology as a freshman, and she has been a strong contributor in her cohort, which includes graduate students.”

Nunez loves her internship and the Rising Stars Program. “UST’s program has given me the best role models, an opportunity to be part of a cancer hospital’s culture and has helped me know that this is the exact place I want to be,” she said. “In addition, the Rising Stars scholarship has helped me and my family afford a first-class college education. I am so grateful. UST has helped me achieve my dreams.”

An education/apprenticeship model that works

Dr. Travis observed that one of the Rising Stars Program model pieces goes back to the early days of this country’s education/apprenticeship programs.

“We’ve lost that model, and I would say the recent COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the underbelly of the beast,” she explains. “It made us all step back and ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to help people?’ I believe UST’s Rising Stars gives us a great opportunity to help students, not just during their time here at MD Anderson, but also develop new skills, mentorships and experiences that will be valuable for the rest of their lives.”

Dr. Travis is especially pleased to be a Rising Stars partner with UST because MD Anderson has the opportunity to develop potential that, otherwise, could be missed. 

“We can only open doors,” she states, “and we are committed to that, especially for women and minorities.”  

About the Author — Alice Adams

Alice AdamsA former UST adjunct professor and the fourth of six generations of teachers, Alice Adams has combined her passion for education with a career in journalism. She is the coauthor of more than two dozen books on business and is editor of "The Texas Director" and "Southern Calls Magazine." Her feature articles and a grandparenting column, "The Grand Adventure," have appeared in The Houston Chronicle for more than two decades. She holds a bachelor's and master's degrees in education and mass communications degree from The University of Texas and an EdD (ABD) in Educational Leadership from the University of Houston.

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