With the end of the spring semester, we have entered into the “construction semester” on the Urbana-Champaign campus! Work crews seem to appear without warning, and the new growth seems to be on every university street and sidewalk. It’s all part of a bigger plan to improve the community and strengthen the infrastructure that supports our research, teaching, public engagement, and economic development missions.

In similar ways, the Cancer Center is under construction! We are deliberately putting infrastructure in place to connect our research community in new and exciting ways, building bridges among faculty, staff, students, physicians, and community partners to tackle the basic science and engineering questions that surround cancer.

When we “officially” established the Cancer Center at Illinois last July, we also laid out an ambitious plan to become designated by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute as the first new Basic Science Designated Cancer Center in nearly 30 years. Our first step in that process was preparation of a preliminary draft of a cancer center support grant (CCSG), which we shared with our External Advisory Committee last October. Our distinguished members of the EAC put in significant effort to strengthen our center and helped improve our application. I am deeply grateful for the quick work (and enthusiastic support) from our campus leadership — Chancellor Jones, Provost Cangellaris, and Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Martinis — in supporting the recommendations of the EAC and enabling amazing progress for the center. I am more confident than ever that we have the exceptional faculty and students, a great center team, institutional support, and the resources we need to be successful in building a truly unique and impactful Cancer Center.

While, as a researcher, I am delighted that we are making such significant progress, as an educator I am equally excited about our student programs. Our first cohort of Cancer Scholars graduated in May 2018, and our first group (2016-2018) of NIH-funded Tumor Microenvironment Training Fellows will wrap up their time with the program in August, making room for a new group to start their journey in the fall semester. We welcomed a new cohort of researcHStart students this summer, and added to the CHSTAR program. This cycle of growth and change — deliberately constructing opportunities for innovation, discovery, and learning — is a hallmark of the Cancer Center at Illinois.