VICC Young Ambassadors

The Young Ambassadors Story

The Young Ambassadors group formed in 2009, a group of young professionals with a shared passion for fighting cancer and a shared commitment to Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC). Several of our members and many of our loved ones have benefitted from the exceptional care offered by VICC.

We were seeking an opportunity to make a difference, to raise financial support for innovative, ground-breaking cancer research and to have a hand in selecting which projects we would fund. Our group’s mission includes fundraising, advocacy and volunteering.

Each spring, we formally kick off our fundraising efforts and set a fundraising goal. In the fall, we have an “award symposium” where we hear presentations from cancer researchers who are early in their careers. Due to extensive training requirements, a medical researcher’s career usually doesn’t begin until a researcher is well into his or her 30’s. Each project is considered sound science that VICC would fund if possible. Put another way, there are more exciting ideas bouncing around than funding is available. Who knows which idea could be THE big breakthrough?

We have developed selection criteria based on the scientists’ ability to communicate their ideas in a compelling and creative way. We review about a half-dozen projects. Our group asks questions and eventually selects recipients based on the funds we have raised. Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., Associate Director for Basic Research and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, selects the cancer research projects each year for our group to consider. Scott tells us that our questions have improved in sophistication year-over-year. Our grant selection process reminds him of the intense study sections that researchers experience when vying for large grants.

Check out this video as we called Melissa Skala, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and one of our grant recipients in 2012, to share the good news that her project had been selected! This moment – when we have the honor of sharing the award with the recipient – is a highlight of the Young Ambassadors’ year. We are entrusting each recipient to make a significant contribution to finding a cure for cancer.

We have forged strong relationships with Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, as well as the VICC development team and Board of Overseers. As a condition of receiving funding, each researcher commits to stay connected with our group and provide updates on the research we have funded. Beyond this important accountability, we have so enjoyed building relationships with these smart scientists. We cherish the opportunity to engage with such talented members of the Vanderbilt, Nashville, and scientific communities!