He wanted a career in tech. This foundation shaped his future and changed his life.
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In eighth grade, Steven Kwan didn't know if he wanted a career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM), but he knew that he wanted a $1,000 scholarship for college.

Steven Kwan in eighth grade, when he started with TAF. Photo courtesy of Steven Kwan.

Kwan's parents, first-generation immigrants from China, had always stressed the importance of education, so when the Seattleite reached the eighth grade he understood that he'd have to start saving for college.


When Kwan learned that Seattle's Technology Access Foundation (TAF) was offering $1,000 scholarships for successful completion of each year of its Technical Teens Internship Program (TTIP), a high school STEM program, he applied — even though he didn't know much about TAF.

The scholarship and organization would go on to shape his entire career.

Photo courtesy of TAF.

TAF is dedicated to making futures in STEM possible for people of color and other underrepresented students in Washington State. Through education and building connections, TAF is helping to create the tech leaders of tomorrow and bridge the gap in representation in the technology sector.

Kwan was part of TAF's original venture into education as a member of TTIP, an after-school program. While most kids were using computers to play around with instant messaging, Kwan was spending six hours a week learning about programming, software engineering and professional development skills like interviewing and collaborating with others on the job.

“The goal of that was to help us develop these technical skills so that, come summertime, they would help us find internships within the Seattle area to make use of those skills," says Kwan.

Two things happened later that year: Kwan learned that $1,000 wasn't enough money to go to college, and he decided he wanted to pursue a career in tech.

So he spent the next four summers interning in the tech field, even working two summers with Microsoft, where he got hands-on experience in software development and engineering using the skills he gained from TTIP.

“[TAF] really helped me understand what it was I really wanted to do when I got older," he says. “It helped me explore software engineering more than just sitting in front of a computer and tapping away code. It was an opportunity to be very creative and to build things that could help people."

TAF made Kwan confident about what he wanted to do next. It also gave him the skills he needed to thrive in a field where people like him are underrepresented.

Kwan today. Photo courtesy of Steven Kwan.

Even now that he's 29, Kwan says his mentors at TAF are like family. They pushed him to be successful by providing the tools necessary for him to stand on his own. They helped him find and apply for scholarships, wrote him letters of recommendation and helped him craft his personal statements — which, as anyone knows, is one of the hardest parts of applying to college.

“What that really translated to was I got into three schools," Kwan says. “I got a direct admission into the computer science department at the University of Washington."

He was also the recipient of the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship.

Once at the University of Washington, Kwan worked hard academically and made a conscious effort to help the community. He worked with social justice groups, mentored high school students applying for institutions of higher education and took on a leadership position coordinating other mentors at a local high school.

Today, thanks to all he learned at TAF and in college, he's a senior software engineer at a major tech company where he's worked for more than seven years. But one of the most important things that TAF taught Kwan is how much representation matters. It helped him recognize that he has a voice that deserves to be heard.

“I recognize that because of [how long I've been at my job], I also now have the power to be an advocate for other people. TAF really helped to shape my lens on what diversity and inclusion looked like in tech and what equality and belonging look like."

According to a 2018 PEW research report, the vast majority of people with careers in STEM are white and male. Kwan and TAF are working to change those numbers.

Photo courtesy of TAF.

At his job, Kwan has made promoting diversity a major part of his career. For example, he's been an instrumental part of setting up his company's pride network — a place of inclusion for LGBT+ employees.

“TAF has given me skills to be a very good advocate for myself," says Kwan. “I've realized that as a part of that it means I also have to advocate for other people as well if I want to see changes happen."

Kwan recently became a member of TAF's Board of Directors. And the organization, which he joined when it was in its early stages, has grown right along with him.

While TAF has transitioned out of after-school programming, the organization has brought all of the most important components of its previous program — including hands-on experience, job shadowing and resume building — to a school, TAF@Saghalie, that the nonprofit co-manages in partnership through the Federal Way School district. TAF's program still caters to underrepresented kids and has been so popular, it's grown from 300 students to over 700 in two years.

Because of TAF's hands-on approach, the kids who attend the school are becoming more knowledgeable and confident than even their biggest supporters might have expected.

“The way we have the students collaborate in a project-based learning environment, they start being accountable, responsible for each other's success," says Tyrone Cunningham, a Development Officer for Corporqate Relations with TAF.

TAF also gives its students a chance to volunteer and use their skills to work on solving real-life problems — such as homelessness — in order to stoke their passion for working within the community. This leads to more and more kids giving back as adults, just like Steven Kwan.

And one of the main reasons that TAF has been able to help so many kids succeed is thanks to partnerships with and investments from companies like Capital One.

Photo courtesy of TAF.

“Capital One has been so amazing to our kids in a variety of ways, from getting their employees to volunteer with [the students] to hosting job shadowing and internships," says Sherry Williams, TAF's Executive Director of Development. Capital One has also invested significantly in TAF, even helping the organization build out a robotics and engineering lab for the school.

But Capital One's contributions go way past the monetary:

“They have given an endless amount of time," Williams goes on. “What makes Capital One different from other corporate partners is the investment. Corporations can write a check [and] walk away. [Capital One] can direct that money towards a certain program and feel great about it. And it is great."

“The difference with Capital One [and its local employees] is they have really taken a holistic approach with TAF and really wrapped their arms around our organization and our students. If we send out something and say, 'Hey we need volunteers for our STEM expo' [or] 'come judge our kids' projects in March,' they're gonna show up."

This kind of support means more kids and educators will become part of a strong community that's expanding STEM's reach.

Photo courtesy of TAF.

“We alums understand what it means to be a part of a collective whole," says Kwan. "I think one of the greatest things is that we recognize that we're all still needed to continue the work so the people coming up behind us don't have to face some of those struggles that some of us had to face with being the only person of color [at work]."

As the organization grows, Kwan hopes that the conversation evolves beyond just creating space for minority groups in STEM fields to what changes must be made to retain those same groups in this industry. And, while he's on the board, he hopes he can help shift the narrative of what it means to be a professional and give people like him even more access to STEM than when he was a kid.

One thing's for certain — with TAF getting bigger and people like Kwan at its helm, the future of STEM is only getting brighter.

via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

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via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."