Student Profile: Jennifer Cruz

Senior Jennifer Cruz is headed to India on a Fulbright to work on a cancer-prevention project. The Psychology major has focused her academic learning and service on helping people cope with the life-altering diagnosis of cancer.

Cruz brings first-hand knowledge of the impact of cancer not only on the patients but their families. Her mother died of the disease when Cruz was 13, the youngest of four children. Growing up in Wapato, WA, she came to Seattle University to major in Psychology. Her goal has always been to help people work through trauma.

Cruz immediately took advantage of campus of life. She joined the rowing team in her first year and became captain in her senior year. Under the auspices of the student-led Kolkata Club, she participated in a service abroad program in India where she assisted Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity in the care of destitute and dying adults in hospice.

“I wanted to know how I would handle that type of situation,” she said. “I needed to confront attachment issues. It helped me focus on how to use my degree.”

When she returned to campus, Cruz chose go into the B.S. degree program in Psychology, which brings a research component into the curriculum with its focus on biopsychology, statistics, and experimental design.  

With the help of Professor Kathleen Cook, she received an internship at Fred Hutch working with cancer patients and their families. The Hutch, one of the leading cancer research centers in the world, was analyzing quantitative and qualitative data from health providers in the Yakima Valley to determine the best ways to improve outcomes and reduce stress for cancer patients.

“Minorities and low-income populations tend to have more relapses of cancer,” Cruz said. “Getting to an appointment can be difficult if work, child care, and transportation create barriers. Sometimes there is a language barrier between the medical staff and the patients and their families. We wanted to see if increased access to resources and support groups would be helpful.”

Many people in the Yakima Valley are Spanish speakers or low income. The project focused on providing post-treatment cancer education, including nutrition, exercise, and body image, the importance of keeping appointments, maintaining contact with their providers, and staying on drug regimens.

During her 10-month internship, Cruz conducted research and compiled data from surveys and interviews with health care professionals and patients. The final report is due out later this year.
For her Fulbright in India, Cruz will conduct research with the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology (ICPO), an autonomous institution within the Ministry of Family and Health Welfare as well as RTI International, an independent, nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to governments and commercial clients.

“Cancer rates are skyrocketing in India,” she said. “ICPO and RTI have developed a phone app and website to help rural doctors access critical information about cancer and cancer prevention. The research will determine its effectiveness.”

A first generation college student and Costco and Naef Scholar, Cruz leaves Seattle University with the strong support of the faculty and her coaches:  “They have all inspired me, and I am so thankful.”

Published April 28, 2016