Johnson Center supports students, faculty, cancer research for 33 years


Editor’s Note: This article was written for an MC200 class for the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Johnson Cancer Research Center hasn’t always been located in the heart of campus or had students and faculty vying for scholarships and research money.

Terry C. Johnson had a vision in 1980 to bring cancer research to K-State, and with the help Rob Denell, current center director, there are now 80 affiliated faculty researchers and $500,000 a year supporting cancer research. Faculty and students are choosing K-State for the reputation it has in cancer research and the support the center provides.

The Johnson Cancer Research Center awarded $72,850 in scholarships in 2012 alone to undergraduate students. This facility is key for supporting the next generation of researchers by getting undergraduates involved in lab research. There is a lot of support for faculty, as well, which has brought professors from across the country to K-State. About $100,000 is budgeted for their faculty Innovative Research Awards each year.

With a mission to “further the understanding of cancers by funding cancer research and supporting higher education, training and public outreach,” the center ensures those interested have the ability to get involved.

In the past 13 years, cancer research and the center’s facilities have changed dramatically. Chalmers Hall, located across from Gen. Richard B. Myers Hall on N. 17th Street, opened in 2002 with state of the art equipment. Prior to its move into Chalmers Hall, the center operated in various locations around Manhattan but didn’t gain the attention of the community.

Marcia Locke, the center’s public relations and outreach coordinator, said it was amazing how little people knew about the center, even after 20 years of operation.

“The center does biological basic research, which gives the possibility for a cure,” Locke said. “You can’t fight without knowledge.”

New knowledge about cancer is another welcome change since 1980. With new research techniques, such as genome sequencing and stem cell research, researchers are getting closer to finding ways to diagnose and treat cancer. Current research may enable cancer treatment without killing healthy cells, which is the primary drawback to chemotherapy.

The center wouldn’t be able to make the strides it has without the numerous fundraisers that take place in the course of the year.

“Even the small events build up,” Locke said. “Every dollar means something.”

Some of the events that take place throughout the year are the Pink Power Luncheon and the Rob Regier Memorial Golf Tournament. The luncheon this year featured guest speakers Terrah Stroda and Kelli Netson, who have had personal involvement with breast cancer. Another event is the Pink and Purple Polyester Party, where Dave Lewis, public address announcer for K-State football and men’s basketball games, throws a benefit in celebration of his late wife, Elena, who died from breast cancer in 2006.

Another event, specifically in October, is the K-State “Fighting for a Cure” T-shirt campaign. The campaign is a great opportunity for awareness, Locke said. The shirts are selling for $20, and if a large number of people wear the shirts at football games in October, or just around campus year-round, they will provide needed awareness for the Johnson Cancer Research Center.

Trevor Montgomery, senior in accounting, volunteered with business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi to sell the T-shirts in the K-State Student Union during October.

“It’s the visual aspect,” Montgomery said. “People ask, ‘Hey where did you get that?’ and the popularity of the shirts increase. Research needs money to get things accomplished.”

Although a majority of these events are held in October other events are held all year long to raise money for the center. They’re assisted by organizations such as Cats for a Cure and the K-State Cancer Fighters, both student organizations directly affiliated with the center. The K-State Cancer Fighters assist with fundraisers in the area and are currently planning a fundraiser of their own. For three years, they have helped students get involved in every aspect of the fight against cancer.

“I think what really sets us apart from other organizations is that we do work so closely with the center, and that allows our students to have an opportunity to get involved with professionals in cancer research and gain some experience in that field for themselves, all [while] in their undergraduate careers,” David Van Ommen, fundraising chair for the K-State Cancer Fighters and junior in advertising, said.

Students in the K-State Cancer Fighters gain leadership, organizing and event planning experience and also assist with center fundraisers such as the ones held this month, the Tough Enough to Wear Pink Rodeo and Play 4 Kay.

“Every story starts at the same place—the beginning,” Ommen said. “The foundational research done at the Johnson Center brings us closer and closer to understanding what the beginning of cancer’s story is.”