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Students Support Cancer Research at Van Andel Institute

When five East Kentwood High School seniors were looking for a way to support breast cancer research, they looked locally to the Bart Williams Breast Cancer Research Lab at Van Andel Institute (VAI)  in Grand Rapids.

These students, who also create the themes for Falcon’s football games, turned the final game Oct 10 into a Pink Out fundraiser to support research in the lab.  They sold doughnuts, bandanas, T-shirts and accepted donations at school and at the game. Football players rallied in support, students were quick to buy gear, and the school became a sea of pink.

The girls, My Nguyen, Jenna Laux, Theresa Olszewski and twin sisters Rachel and Abby Wilusz, recently presented Williams with the results of their efforts – a check for $1,145. All proceeds are going to lab work. They hope supporting research becomes an annual tradition.

“It’s nice that it’s in our community, while helping a bigger cause,” Rachel said.

Williams, a lead investigator at VAI, is focusing on preventing and delaying the spread of cancer from breast tumor to bone. “I really appreciate the support for research at the institute,” he said.

Personally Touched by Cancer

Rachel and Abby’s grandmother died of breast cancer and Theresa’s mother, Sheri Olszewski, has been fighting a five-year battle with another form of cancer. All of the girls know Theresa’s mother well.

“There are so many kids at school that have been touched by cancer,” Theresa said. But coming together in support is a huge part of the school community for various causes, they said.

 “We care and we want to support people who are struggling with something,” Abby said. “We all care about each other.”

Student Council advisor Sheri Hoving, who helped the girls organize the fundraiser, said it was awesome to see a group come up with an idea and make it happen. “It was all from their hearts and their souls,” she said.

A School-Community Connection

Three of the students are in Chad VanHouten’s AP Biology class, where he has been applying real-world experience from his VAI summer internship in the cancerlab into his teaching. The internship is part of the Partners in Science Program, a program of the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust.

The students asked their teacher about supporting the cancer lab as a way to demonstrate their caring about those impacted by cancer. “The effort is all theirs,” VanHouten said. “It is cool to have your own students come up with the idea … they could have supported cancer research in a lot of ways.”

Williams, whose daughters were in VanHouten’s biology class, said part of the goal of the Partners in Science Program is to create connections between classrooms and science institutes. “This is a cool example of that happening,” he said.


Partners in Science Program at VAI

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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