Jazmin Branch has witnessed the pain of cancer up close and was inspired to make a difference. At 17, the senior at Chicago’s Morgan Park High School is already contributing to the field of cancer research. She wanted to know why cancer rates are so high among some groups, and lower in others.
As an eighth grader, Branch’s grandmother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. As she watched helplessly as her grandmother withered away and finally succumbed to the disease. Branch, who had very little knowledge about biology at the time, was left devastated by her death. That same year her trusted school counselor, Dorothy Connie, was diagnosed with breast cancer, but survived.
While her grandmother’s death sparked the National Honor Society president’s interest in cancer, her academic counselor’s survival gave her the push to do the research.
Last summer, Branch worked full time —280 hours—on her research that examines disparities in breast and cervical cancer testing rates among African-American and Latina women. Her research shows education, insurance, and knowledge about breast and cervical cancer influence whether African American women get screened.
“This information can help design effective intervention programs that keep within the social and cultural framework of different populations. The goal is to reduce the racial disparities in the breast and cervical cancer between African American and white women in Chicago,” she said.
While her research used data from the Chicago REACH Out Program and the American Cancer Society to focus on African American and Latina women, “because both are negatively affected by racial disparities in cancer,” Branch was surprised to learn only insurance was a barrier in Latina low screening numbers.
She is one of 60 high school students from across the country selected as regional finalists to compete for the Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) grand prize, a $50,000 public health research scholarship.
The high school valedictorian presented her research April 17, 2011 to a national panel of leading public health experts in Washington D.C. It was an experience the teen says she will never forget.