Climb 4 Kidney Cancer Scholars 2020

In 2020 your donations funded fourteen Climb 4 Kidney Cancer Scholarships!
Meet the C4KC scholars below.

Alexandra Austin

I grew up in the Twin Cities and initially became interested in medicine because of my parents, who are radiologists. In college I discovered my enthusiasm for clinical research. As a medical student at the University of Minnesota, I am now excited to continue to pursue my passion for medical research in Dr. Christopher Weight’s research lab using artificial intelligence to identify and classify kidney cancer on CT scans. As my parents are radiologists, I understand the impact this work could have and am thrilled to be working towards that with Dr. Weight and the other kidney cancer scholars as well as the many teams involved across the country. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking and playing music. 

Jamee Schoephoerster

“Jamee grew up in the Mound, MN attended University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Biology and Environmental Sciences with a Mathematics minor. She spent her gap year conducting cardiovascular research and providing counseling services through the Rape Crisis Center in Dane county. She enjoys spending time outside and hopes to spend many nights sleeping under the stars this summer. Her pediatrician was one of the sources of her encouragement and interest in medicine growing up. Her interested in nephrology was sparked by shadowing a pediatric nephrologist at UW-Madison, where she witnessed how intricate the kidneys are in other body system’s physiology. She hopes to give physicians and patients more insight into their disease and options through conducting research with Dr. Weight.”

Bailey Abernathy

Bailey was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. Her parents found her standing on her head watching television and took that as a sign to put her in gymnastics. She fell in love with the sport and never looked back. In fact, gymnastics is what brought her to the University of Minnesota as a member of the Division I women’s gymnastics team – Go Gophers! Bailey majored in physiology and minored in Spanish studies in undergrad and since then has worked in healthcare as an EMT, scribe, and medical assistant prior to medical school. Her athletic background is a large reason she is interested in medicine due to witnessing the incredible capabilities of the body in sport, including the ability to heal after an injury. Her interest in kidney cancer specifically stems from her father who is a practicing urologist in Colorado. Bailey grew up hearing about kidneys and wants to learn more about what her dad does in his practice. 

Justice Spriggs

I am a medical student at the University of Minnesota in the class of 2023. Originally born in Fargo, ND, I have lived in Minnesota since I was two years old. I graduated from St. Anthony Village High School in 2015 and from Hamline University in 2019 with a BS in Biochemistry. During undergrad, I played four years of football as a quarterback for Hamline, and I am a huge Vikings and Twins fan. I am interested in cancer research since two of my grandparents had difficult battles with the disease.

David Wu

I’m from Cupertino, CA. My father is an acupuncturist so that got me very interested in the different kinds of medicines humans use to treat disease. I think the kidney is a beautiful organ as it is an organ of balance and filtration. I’m excited to research it this summer and learn more about machine learning/AI!

Ben Byun

Hello, I’m Ben and I’m a 1st year med student at UMN. I went to Carleton College for undergrad and majored in Chemistry. There was one point where I considered doubling into Computer Science, but I still valued the little sleep I could get so I had passed on that and just did half the major, which in my world of math, 1/2 a major is like a minor…? Any who, I guess working on the AI kidney project with Dr. Weight is my opportunity to maybe reuse some of that CS knowledge. For hobbies, I’ve been climbing pretty hard for the past year or so, I play cello, and I did a lot of martial arts and flip stuff. So, if you want to chat about those things hit me up. 

Benjamin Simpson

Ben is a native of the Twin-Cities, growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Before starting medical school at the University of Minnesota, Ben studied biochemistry at Macalester College just down the road in St. Paul. Outside of studying, he likes to play soccer and basketball with friends and take his dog Winston to the dog park.  He became interested in medicine while working at Hennepin County Medical Center after graduating college, finding that medicine is a unique field where you can make a tangible difference and have an ever-changing career. Ben is interested in studying kidney cancer because the field is utilizing cutting edge technology to combat a problem that is becoming more prevalent in the U.S.  Ben will be joining the team of C4KC scholars in the summer of 2020. He will import CT scans of abdominal kidney cancer and cysts to train an artificial intelligence program to better detect and diagnose kidney cancer. He is excited to see how machine learning can be applied to kidney cancer to better patient outcomes. Your donations to C4KC allow students like Ben to participate in such meaningful research, thank you so much!

Sierra Virnig

My name is Sierra Virnig, I am 24 years old and have a BA from The College of Saint Benedict where I studied Biology. I grew up in Little Falls, MN but I currently work as a Nursing Assistant at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. I value overall health and well-being and strive to live a healthy lifestyle – one such way I accomplish that goal is by doing CrossFit. In my spare time I love to read, be outdoors, and play with my 6 month old Goldendoodle.  

John French

I was born in Pasadena, California, but grew up in Idaho just outside of Boise. I attended college at The College of Idaho, where I played soccer for their men’s soccer program. Through my studies I earned a triple major and triple minor in the fields of Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics/Physics and Business, History and Religion, respectively. Between my time from graduation to attend medical school at the University of Missouri I worked as a CNA, chemistry instructor, research scientist and hemodialysis technician. My passion for learning about the kidney came from my time as a hemodialysis technician for Fresenius. It was truly remarkable to see how two small organs play such an integral role to maintain our homeostasis and health, and what happens when they are not functioning properly. Seeing patients who suffered from kidney cancer inspired me to want to help investigate better ways to identify and treat kidney cancer. I am excited and fortunate to be working with Dr. Christopher Wright’s group at the University of Minnesota, where they are using artificial intelligence and deep learning to automatically identify kidney and kidney cancers. In my free time I enjoy traveling, exercising and getting outdoors, especially to go hiking in the mountains.

Safa Abdulkadir

My family is originally from East Africa but I grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Upon graduating high school, I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease which inspired my interest in medicine and research. From there, I pursued a degree in physiology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and went on to attend medical school at the same institution. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, running, and visiting art museums. I have always been interested in the ways we can leverage technology to deliver more precise and impactful healthcare. When I learned of this Kidney cancer research project, I immediately knew I wanted to become a part of the team because it was the perfect intersection of clinical medicine, computer science, and mathematics.

Griffin Struyk

When he’s not studying for med school exams, you can find Griffin spending his time skiing, sailing, or fishing.  Originally from Minnetonka, Minnesota, Griffin attended college at the University of Connecticut, where he raced on the alpine ski team. He developed an interest in medicine while volunteering as a research assistant at a local emergency room in college. During this time, he learned to appreciate the important role that research plays in transforming medical care. Before coming to the U of M for medical school, he spent 2 years at Yale School of Medicine working in clinical research on heart-kidney interactions and therapies for heart failure. Much of his work was focused on kidney physiology, which is how he developed an interest in diseases of the kidney, such as cancer. As a medical student, Griffin was inspired by the work of experts like Dr. Weight, who are using cutting edge technology to combat kidney cancer. Using artificial intelligence to help understand and treat kidney cancer is an amazing example of medicine as both an art and a science, and he is thrilled to joining a great team of researchers with the opportunity to create a real difference in patient outcomes.

Sarah Peterson

Sarah became interested in medicine after taking a Human Medicine course in high school and discovering her fascination with the human body. Kidney cancer specifically interests her because of its increasing prevalence in the United States and the ever-growing pool of research about treatment options. She enjoys hiking, baking, and making music in her free time. As a C4KC scholar, Sarah participated in the conduction of a literature review which was made possible by the C4KC funding. Without the funding, she would have been unable to spend so much time devoted to this work. She thinks this research will make the diagnosis of kidney cancer faster and more efficient in the future. Which will hopefully lead to patients easily understanding their condition and treatment methods, making the treatment and recovery process less stressful. Thank you so much for the opportunity to conduct this research. Without the C4KC funding, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in such meaningful work.

Keenan Moore

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Keenan is an undergraduate student at and the Carleton College and a part of the college baseball team. As a pre-medicine student, he had reached out to Dr. Weight and was offered the opportunity to get involved in the exciting research on automation of CT-nephrometry scores. He likes oncology because it allows him to contribute to work that has a potential to save lives. Keenan says that the C4KC funding allowed him to focus more fully on the research without worrying about supporting himself with a second job. He expressed a deep sense of gratitude to the C4KC donors, without whom, he may not have been able to participate in this research.