Around the country, 1,500 students were selected this year as delegates to attend the honors-only program Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Lowell, Mass.
One of Cottage’s Grove own is among them.
Kassity Hanks-Cave, a sophomore at Cottage Grove High School, was chosen in April to attend the event, which will take place from June 23 to 25.
“I’m so nervous, yet so excited,” said Kassity. “It’s only my second plane ride.”
The conference, offered by New Charter University of Salt Lake City Utah, is a program for high school students who want to become physicians or go into medical research fields. Invitation is by academic nomination only and students must have a minimum 3.25 GPA to attend.
Nobel Laureates, luminaries and experts in their field will be in attendance to inform and guide student delegates.
Kassity, who’s maintained straight As since middle school, has long held a special affinity for the sciences.
“I’ve always been really interested in the science field. I love science,” she said.
While attending a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp at Oregon State University last year, Kassity’s passion for the subject made an impression on one of the supervising educators. It was enough to prompt the supervisor to submit an application for Kassity to the program.
When Kassity got the nomination letter, she could barely control her excitement.
“My parents weren’t home, so I’m freaking out waiting for one of them to come in the door,” she said. “Pretty sure I tackled my dad saying, ‘Look at this, I got a letter from Harvard and it says I get to go to Boston for a medical conference.’ I was so excited.”
Kassity’s letter was signed by Dr. Mario Capecchi, science director of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists and winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. The letter states she had been chosen to represent Oregon based on her “academic achievement, leadership potential and determination to serve humanity in the field of medicine.”
The event’s stated purpose is to honor, inspire, motivate and direct the top students in the country who aspire to be physicians or medical scientists. After the event, the program promises to provide a pathway and resources to help them reach their goal.
“I will get to meet with Nobel prize winners. …there are multiple kids who are actually my age who have won Nobels,” said Kassity. “I get to watch a live surgery, which is super amazing. It’s crazy. I’m hoping it’s a cardiac surgery because that is so cool.”
The event also gives students tools to carve out a direction for themselves.
“It’s to help the kids get a mentor to help them reach their goals,” said Alicia, Kassity’s mother. “Especially if you’re female, it’s really hard to get in to the science area.”
The mentors will be people who are experts in their field, Nobel Laureates and teachers from Boston University. Delegates will be able to choose from the daunting list of mentors — and more than one if they desire.
The three-day conference will feature presentations by people representing a vast array of fields including biology, genealogy, engineering, bionics, oncology, chemistry and many others.
Kassity was seven when her interest in science was first sparked by a fascination with sharks.
“I love the way they swim. I love their spot patterns,” she said. “I like tiger sharks because they can eat jellyfish and that’s just cool. I don’t know why.”
Alicia vividly remembered the moment Kassity made her decision.
“I came home and she’s like, ‘I’ve decided to be a ichthyologist,’” Alicia said. “And she was very clear, so at eight we took her to Crescent City, to Ocean World down there, so she could pet a live shark. And then we started taking her to aquariums.”
Alicia told Kassity that she had her parents’ support, but she needed to concentrate on science. Now in high school, Kassity is exceeding expectations.
“She’s actually a sophomore taking junior science and junior math,” said Alicia.
Next year, Kassity will be taking senior-level classes and her counselor is looking into getting her access to college-level classes for her senior year.
On top of her academic performance, Kassity keeps a full schedule of hobbies.
“I’m a cheerleader and I hunt,” she said.
As a full-time cheerleader, Kassity cheers during football season, basketball season and participates in competitive cheerleading in the summer.
Academically, Kassity has yet to find her specific calling, however.
“I do want to do something in the medical field, but I haven’t really quite decided,” she said.
Right now, Kassity’s favorite class in high school is chemistry.
“It’s so fun to learn, doing all the experiments” she said. “I love, mostly, the teacher. Because she treats us like adults. … That’s something you don’t often get. I mean, there’s lots of teachers to treat you like adults, but then don’t speak to you like adults.”
Alicia is hopeful the mentorship and insight gained from her trip will equip Kassity with some ideas for her future.
“[The mentorship] will be like monthly check-ins through her junior year and then her senior year,” Alicia said. “They’ll help her write grants to get funding for college, and find what kind of college will help her go the direction she wants to go.”
Kassity will also receive one college credit after writing a five-page paper on what she learns from the conference.
“I’d like to go to either OSU, Harvard wouldn’t be bad, or Queensland University in Australia,” Kassity said.
With so much to learn in front of her, perhaps Kassity’s first lesson from the conference will be that there are no free lunches.
“Just for the conference alone is $1,800,” Alicia said. “That is not our airfare, that is not her hotel cost, that is her 8:30-to-11:00-at-night-3-day conference.”
She estimates that airfare, hotel and car rental will be another $2,000.
The family’s fundraising efforts started as soon as the nomination letter arrived in April. As it turns out, they have found recycling to be the most successful tactic so far.
“I’m doing pretty well. I’ve returned a whole bunch of cans and bottles people have donated to me, which is super amazing,” Kassity said. “Like the Portland Shockwaves, an all-women’s football team, donated to me and that was so incredible considering I did football when I was younger. It meant everything to me that they did that.”
Kassity has also received bottle and can donations from Bates Steak House & Catering. Various community members have pitched in as well.
“Some people are more willing to give you cans than give you money,” Alicia said, “and so asking for cans was an easy way.”
Even with her busy schedule, Kassity has committed much of her free time to the fundraising effort.
“Pretty sure it’s every day I’m recycling,” Kassity said.
Some monetary donations have flowed in from an online fundraising account.
“That paid for half the conference and my husband and I paid for the other half,” Alicia said. “Currently we’re trying to help cut down on some of the costs for the airfare.”
Alicia figured about $1,000 have been raised in total through fundraising so far.
“At least half of it from cans,” she said. “We’ve told everybody that if you don’t want to do GoFundMe, you can contact me for something else or if you want to donate cans, we’ll come and pick them up.”
A fundraiser page for Kassity on Facebook can be found at www.facebook.com/donate/2390177534382294/.