Finding Purpose: Summer at Loras Helps Surma Find Path Forward

When Gracelyn Surma (’21) graduated from Loras this past spring, she wasn’t entirely sure what her next steps would be. Thanks to a grant secured through the Scholl Foundation, her last few weeks have brought more clarity.

Surma had been working with Keith Thraen-Borowski, Ph.D., director of the Loras College CARES Laboratory, as a student in the lab for the past year. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to work with patients during that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the CARESLab opened at the start of June, her interaction with patients has provided the remaining information to know that exercise oncology is the path for her.

“Being able to work with patients reminds me why I want to go into exercise oncology,” Surma said. “I am reminded by them each time they come in on how big of a difference we are making in their life. Not only am I grateful for this learning experience, but also grateful to be the person to hopefully help them feel better day-to-day.”

This summer, Surma coordinates with referred cancer patients to discuss the CARESLab and how it can help them. She walks them through what the lab does and helps lead them through individualized clinical exercise for eight weeks.

“Now that the CARESLab is able to see patients again, providing continuity of care is of the utmost importance to me,” Dr. Thraen-Borowski explained. “As patients that are eligible for our study complete an eight-week clinical exercise intervention, we would like them to ideally work with the same student researchers each visit throughout their time in the program. Having Gracelyn in the lab throughout the summer is allowing us to do just that. It is not only increasing our capacity to see more patients, which is certainly welcomed, but we are now able to provide that level of continuity that creates opportunities for patients to feel comfortable, potentially allowing for improved clinical outcomes.

“Further, as Gracelyn would ultimately like to work with oncology patients occupationally, this is providing her with an unparalleled opportunity that will offer her a hands-on experience with this clinical population while also preparing her well for her graduate studies.”

The CARESLab focuses on evaluating the relationship between physical activity, prognosis, and quality of life in individuals diagnosed with cancer. It hosts an ongoing clinical trial that was launched with Medical Associates Oncology, in conjunction with MercyOne. 

“The opportunity Loras gave me this summer to study and work in the CARESLab has helped me decide what I want to do after graduating this past spring. I want to continue to learn and work in the lab throughout the 2021-2022 school year and apply for graduate school for exercise oncology,” Surma said.

Surma is one of seven students doing work related to their field of study thanks to a grant from the Scholl Foundation. Some students are studying computational chemistry and the impact of biochemistry on blindness.

Surma also joined the other CARESLab students to discuss their experience this past spring on the Duhawk Digest podcast. You can listen to that conversation here.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).