High school essays lead to internships at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Selected juniors from New York City public schools compete in a STEM-inspired community outreach program

Print Friendly and PDF
Share story:  

Azreen Hasan with her mentor, Dr. Govindarajan Srimathveeravalli, PhD, a biomedical engineer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.Last spring, Azreen Hasan was one of 60 high school students sitting in an auditorium at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) for the annual Radiology: Giving Back to NYC event. Azreen, a junior at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in Manhattan, was waiting to see who won first prize in the contest. The other four prize winners had been announced, and Azreen assumed the first-place winner would be from one of the other schools.

Then she heard her teacher and classmates calling her name: “Azreen, you won!”

Azreen earned a cash award of $250 and an opportunity to participate in one of five summer internships at MSK. She smiled at her teacher, Dr. Bruce Levinson. She had been the last in her school to submit her application, and together they worked an extra week on her video because she wanted it to perfectly describe why she wanted to do a summer internship at MSK.

Azreen earned her internship by writing the winning essay, Imagine a World without Radiology (which you can read below), and submitting a 90 second video: Why I Want to Participate in a Summer Internship. It was part of the annual Radiology: Giving Back to NYC competition.

The program

Each year, selected high school juniors in Career and Technical Education programs in New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) public high schools are invited to participate in this community outreach program, which was started in 2004 by Dr. Hedvig Hricak, Chair of the Department of Radiology at MSK. With her longtime interest in education, Dr. Hricak wanted to provide cutting-edge opportunities to high school students from New York City. Students from selected schools in all five boroughs of the city are invited to participate in the annual Radiology: Giving Back to New York City program. The overall goal is to inspire and educate students and teachers about careers in healthcare with a focus on radiology and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. About 75 students participate each year.

The program is made possible through MSK’s collaboration with the NYCDOE and more recently the City College of New York (CCNY) became involved. Through the CCNY-MSKCC National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded U54 Partnership, the program has been able to offer five internships to the five finalists. Dr. Karen Hubbard, Chair of the Department of Biology at CCNY, collaborates on developing the internships with Dr. Hricak. Since 2009, they have worked together to develop more opportunities for underrepresented minority students in NYC.

2014 winner Sarah Tress (in front) at the 2014 program. Dr. Hedvig Hricak is to her right and Dr. Karen Hubbard is on the far left.More than 30 faculty and staff members volunteer for the program, which introduces the students to careers in radiology, STEM and healthcare and includes a hands-on ultrasound workshop. Students work with their high school teachers to prepare for the competition. The students submit essays on a given topic in radiology along with a video on why they want to participate in a summer internship. The essays and videos are judged by volunteers from the Department of Radiology, including research staff and senior faculty members. The winners are announced at the annual event held for students, teachers and NYCDOE administrators.

Last year’s winner, Sarah Tress, formerly of Staten Island Technical High School, is now studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In her email to her 2014 mentor, Dr. Govindarajan Srimathveeravalli, Assistant Attending Engineer in the Department of Radiology at MSK, she credited the internship with helping her with her application to and acceptance at MIT. Sarah plans on majoring in mechanical engineering with a focus on biomedical technology. (Read her winning essay below.)

In late August, Azreen completed her summer internship in engineering. The results of her project, Measurement of Electrical Resistance with Paper Based Circuits for the Diagnosis of Urinary Infection, will provide the foundation for a global healthcare project designed to meet a demand for inexpensive diagnostic tests that can rapidly determine whether a patient has a urinary tract infection – using a paper based circuit system. This project could have a positive effect on global healthcare, and Dr. Srimathveeravalli is particularly interested in implementing this in India, the country where he was born.

2015 Finalists

Other internships included a project with Dr. Elizabeth A. Morris, Chief of the Breast Imaging Service of the Department of Radiology at MSK, and members of the breast imaging team. Students performed a comprehensive literature search on breast cancer screening and created an extensive endnote bibliography and an excel database to store data. Dr. Morris’s team was impressed with the level of dedication the students showed. One of the students expressed an interest in pursuing a career in nursing at the end of the internship.

Other students worked on functional MRI projects in neuroradiology and on the use of tomosynthesis in breast screening.

Learn more

The Radiology: Giving Back to New York City program is administered by the Department of Radiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Office of Postsecondary Readiness of the New York City Department of Education for Career and Technical Education programs. Dr. Sara J. Abramson, Emeritus Attending and former Director of Pediatric Radiology at MSK, has helped to organize the program since its inception. She along with her colleague Dr. Jacqueline Bello created seminars to teach high school students about radiology.

The program is coordinated by Harini Venkatesh, Associate Director of Industry Engagement, Career & Technical Education of the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the New York City Department of Education, and Sheila Fortunato, Program/Grants Manager for the Department of Radiology at MSK.

For information on the 2016 program, contact Sheila Fortunato (

Winning essay for 2015

Imagine a World without Radiology

By Azreen Hasan
High School for Health Professions and Human Services

From the Neanderthals of old age to the Steve Jobs of Apple; technology has made quite an impact on our generation. With just one click of a button, once thought to be impossible, processes can become miracles with ease. We thrive on technology; it calls out to us more than we emphasize its necessity. People's daily lifestyles and routines have changed drastically due to the advent of technology. When an individual suffers an injury, for example a twisted ankle, a hospital is a guaranteed measure of safety. It is unimaginable how surreal it feels to know exactly when to expect your first child. Seeing your own baby in your womb is a privilege taken for granted nowadays. Radiology helps one see outside the box. Beyond amazing, the advancements of radiology have made the limits boundless.

It all started in 1895 when Rector Wilhelm Roentgen discovered x-rays. “If the hand be held between the discharge-tube and the screen, the darker shadow of the bones is seen within the slightly dark shadow-image of the hand itself... For brevity's sake I shall use the expression 'rays'; and to distinguish them from others of this name I shall call them 'X-rays'.” (Roentgen). Working with a cathode-ray tube in his laboratory, Rector Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen saw a barium platinocyanide screen glow when exposed to an unknown radiation from his cathode ray tube. Little did he know, Roentgen brought significant change to medicine today.

The X-ray brought about immense changes to society. Doctors, for the first time, could see images of the human heart and brain and the medical specialty of radiology was born. By May of 1896, the X-ray had its first medical use, when it was used in Naples to locate bullets in the arm of a soldier wounded in an Italian campaign against the Ethiopians. A German doctor would find a sarcoma in the tibia of a child. Before long, X-rays would be used to fight cancer as well as discover it. (The British Library)

Radiology is a subset of medicine that uses imaging technology to diagnose and treat disease. Radiology uses imaging technologies, such as X-ray radiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) to see within the human body in order to diagnose disease and abnormalities. Imaging means creating a picture of the inner configuration of a dense object, in radiology this usually means a part of the human body with the use of radiation. (Medical News Today article 2014) It allows physicians to see inside the body without making an incision. It also allows intricate procedures on fragile organs without surgery. Diagnosis of heart disease was once confined to a stethoscope and an EKG. Today, radiologists use imaging procedures such as cardiac catheterization, CT angiography, cardiac ultrasound, and nuclear imaging to address heart disease. These early diagnosis and treatment improve survival. (h, 2005)

Radiology has helped a plethora of people all over the world, starting with detecting diseases to saving lives. Without radiology I would either not be here today or be battling many health complications. When my mother was pregnant with me and went to her regular checkups, the doctor had notified her that I was not growing regularly. My mother’s original due date was October 17th, 1998, but with the detection of my growth from the ultrasound, the doctors were able to decipher that early birth would be ideal. This prevented severe complications later on in life. As sound waves are used instead of radiation, the procedure is ultimately safe. Ultrasound scans are commonly used during pregnancy to produce images of the baby in the womb. Ultrasound scans can also be used to: detect heart problems and examine other parts of the body (such as the liver, kidneys and abdomen). As much as this devastated my mother, she knew that the sooner the delivery occurred, the sooner the doctors could be of assistance. I was born premature on August 17th, 1998. I am blessed with the creation of the ultrasound because with it came my fresh and curious eyes into the world, looking over the smile of my loving mother.

Adding on to the priceless emotions surrounding a mother's first look at her baby, radiology helps to further research and development in the battle against various illnesses and diseases. For example, taking a glance at the basic definition of cancer; it is a tumor that causes uncontrollable cell division and abnormal loss of body tissue. Radiology is at the forefront in detecting these kinds of tumors. There is actually no alternative concerning the detection of cancer. Radiologists can detect a growing cancer in an early stage and treat it before the patient becomes seriously overwhelmed, and can then discover ways to recover.

Your body needs all of its organs to function and coincide when juxtaposed to these dangerous diseases. Only a radiologist can examine your heart, stomach or brain to see how well it can function. In a world without radiology, we would have an increase of outbreaks and plagues. Without consistent communication with a radiologist, people will be naive of their internal systems. This lack of awareness will result in an increase of demise. We depend on radiology to unambiguously detect anatomical abnormality, provide differential diagnosis and safely use moral radiation. Radiology has been a great impact to health care. But underlying this change is a simple reality that was expressed eloquently by Dr. Tom Ruane, Medical Director. Dr. Ruane addressed many of the issues surrounding the growth in the use of medical imaging. But he concluded that the primary driving force was very simple and clear:” I think the number one driver of the trend is technological advancement. These are wonderful tests that are available that really have improved the care of patients” (MedPAC Public Meeting, 2004). Radiology is at the apex of its prowess, with immense intelligence fortifying its backbone.


  1. Herring, William MD. Learning Radiology Recognizing the Basics. New York: 2011

Azreen Hasan is a student at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in Manhattan, New York. Her dream is to be a biomedical engineer, and she plans to study engineering at CCNY. Hasan said she believes that with dedication, determination and effort, she can make her dreams come true. The Radiology: Giving Back to NYC program gave her an opportunity to write a personal anecdote about how radiology has personally touched her life.

Winning essay for 2014

Imagine a World Without Radiology

By Sarah Tress
Staten Island Technical High School

Next Thanksgiving everyone should add radiology, right under their family and health, to the list of things they are thankful for. This may be extreme, but both radiology and radiologists are seriously taken for granted. Radiology is the cornerstone of the medical field. It is the method through which radiologists see inside the human body with minimal intrusion, allowing doctors to make a correct and early diagnosis. It is used in the most commonplace situations, such as an X-ray to determine if an arm is broken, or in the most dire ones, such as an MRI to diagnose a brain tumor. Most people at some point in their lives will need at least one radiological test performed on them to diagnose a condition, life-threatening or not. This means that many people owe their health to radiology and the radiologists that interpret the results for doctors, yet they never acknowledge it. Although radiology is taken for granted, its significance would surely be recognized if it suddenly ceased to exist; a medical field without radiology would not be much of anything at all.

1895 — the year the German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, discovered the mysterious, invisible X-rays that were able to permeate his wife’s hand, was also the year that radiology began. Roentgen published his scientific paper on his discovery in 1896, and soon after physicists around the world were duplicating his cathode-ray tube X-rays (Badash, 2003). Immediately, physicists recognized the purpose these X-rays could serve in the medical field, yet their use did not become prominent until World War I. Marie Curie, a Polish physicist, truly began the field of radiology when she set out to improve both the technology of X-ray scanning and the personnel controlling it. By the end of the war, doctors could not imagine treating a broken bone or removing a projectile without first ordering an X-ray (Badash, 2003).

But radiology definitely did not stop at the X-ray, the X-ray was simply the starting point. By the 1960’s the Navy’s sonar technology was brought over to medical use. Ultrasound imaging, or sonography, uses high frequency sound waves to produce a general image of organs (Weck, 1989b). Most pregnant women receive at least one ultrasound during their pregnancy, helping to diagnose any possible disorders with their fetus. More recently, scientists have developed the advanced technologies of the CAT, MRI, and PET scans which can form precise images of the most inaccessible regions of the human body, revolutionizing the diagnosis of chronic conditions. Utilizing both the X-ray and computer technology, the CAT scan was developed in the 1970’s to create a digital image, which can be two- or three-dimensional, that diagnoses conditions an X-ray scan cannot detect. CAT scans have become particularly useful in imaging the brain to detect strokes, tumors, bleeding, and blood clots. In the 1980‘s, magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, was developed. The technology uses a massive magnet that subjects the patient to a magnetic field thousands of times stronger than the Earth’s, then pulses out radio waves to obtain an image of the body part. Similar to the CAT scan, the MRI is used to image the brain, but it is now also used to detect joint and muscle disorders, tumors, heart and blood vessel problems, and cancers. The newest of these technologies, the PET or positron emission tomography scan, aims to develop images of metabolic processes to observe conditions that do not produce anatomical changes. It is a continually improving technology, but it has already been used to study mental disorders such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease (Weck, 1989a).

Radiology has not only revolutionized the process of diagnosis, but also the process of treatment. Interventional radiologists use the recently developed imaging technologies to provide views of what they cannot see, reducing invasive procedures. Techniques such as balloon angioplasty use X-ray imaging to guide a balloon tipped catheter to a blockage of the arteries, allowing surgeons to even place a stent there to keep the passage open (NYU Department of Radiology, 2005). Chuck Pettigrew, radiology specialty technologist at Dallas/ Fort Worth Medical Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, uses “a portable x-ray machine, called a C-arm, to transmit a picture of the broken bone onto a TV screen in the operating room.” He uses the image to help him to more accurately reset the bones and place pins or screws where needed (Scott, 1993). And as technology has progressed, interventional radiology has become a growing field.

In order to imagine a world without radiology, one only has to look at the past. In the early 19th century, people could only get glimpses into the human body after a death. Doctors could never truly ascertain if patients had fractures or sprains and could never diagnose cancers. By the end of the 19th century, Roentgen shocked the world with the ability to see humans bones with his invisible X-rays. Just 50 years ago, nobody ever imagined technology could ever produce three-dimensional images of the human body. Today’s radiological technology would be considered scientific fiction a century ago. But today we thankfully have the highly specialized radiology that was considered impossible a century ago and that most take for granted. And that radiology provides us with vision, not only into the human body but into the future. With radiology we can see the tiniest anatomical structures and metabolic functions of our bodies, and we can see a future full of new technologies that will further advance the medical field. Without radiology we lack insight into our bodies and into our futures. The medical field would revert back to a guessing game with doctors guessing about the human body and stagnant technological development. It is evident that a world without radiology is a world without vision.


Weck, E. (May, 1989a). A primer on medical imaging, part I. FDA Consumer. Retrieved April 23, 2014.

Weck, E. (April, 1989b). A primer on medical imaging, part II. FDA Consumer. Retrieved April 23, 2014.

Badash, L. (July, 2003). Marie curie: in the laboratory and on the battlefield. American Institute of Physics. Retrieved April 23, 2014.

European Society of Radiology. (January, 2010). The future role of radiology in healthcare. Insights Imaging. Retrieved April 23, 2014.

Scott, S. (1993). The view within. Vim & Vigor. Retrieved April 23, 2014.

NYU Department of Radiology. (2005). Vascular Procedures. NYU Medical Center. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from

Sarah Tress is studying engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a summer intern at MSK in 2014, she completed the project How Can Pulse Oximetry Help to Determine Success of Ablations?. This is a critical question facing interventional radiologists. Tress submitted this project to a regional completion and to the Intel Science Talent Search.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Sheila Rose Fortunato

Sheila Rose Fortunato serves as the Grants/Program Manager for the Department of Radiology at MSK. She works closely with Dr. Hedvig Hricak on several community outreach projects. Together with Drs. Hricak and Hubbard and with the support of the CCNY-MSKCC NIH-funded U54 partnership, they are able to help provide life changing opportunities for New York City High School students through the Radiology: Giving Back to NYC program. In addition to this program, Fortunato works on several global community outreach programs with Dr. Hricak and her team at MSK.

comments powered by Disqus

Share story:  

Related Stories