cancer booth at community fair

The Comprehensive Cancer Center established the Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity (OCECHE) in 2010 as part of a renewed and expanded commitment to serve local communities through research, education and outreach programs.

Mission: The mission of the OCECHE is to serve as a bridge between the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center and academic and community stakeholders to promote equitable collaboration and eliminate cancer disparities through community capacity building, participatory research, advocacy and innovative education and training.

Vision: We seek to work with key stakeholders and community members who are dedicated to improving the health and well-being of their local communities with regards to cancer prevention and risk reduction, access to quality cancer care, promoting community centered collaborative research and supporting those at risk or living with a cancer diagnosis.

The OCECHE, under the direction of Nita Lee, MD, has formed strategic alliances with UChicago units and other healthcare organizations, as well as community, ethnic, and faith-based groups to create innovative programs that will increase access to care, reduce risk factors for cancer, reduce tobacco use, increase participation in cancer research and improve the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors. 

The Comprehensive Cancer Center has a global presence, attracting cancer patients from around the world; however, our most important commitment is to the people of the Chicago metropolitan area and, particularly, the residents of surrounding neighborhoods including Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Washington Park and Woodlawn. Maintaining a vibrant, two-way conversation with our South Side neighbors helps Comprehensive Cancer Center members better understand and meet patient needs.

Our Team

Nita Karnik Lee, MD, MPH
Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Section of Gynecologic Oncology
Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement

Gina Curry, MPH, MBA
Director, Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity

Erika Rodriguez, BA
Latinx Outreach Specialist, Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity

Alia Poulos, MA, MPP
Education Outreach Specialist, Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity

Helen Lam, PhD, RN
Lead Community Health Educator, Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity


The OCECHE has developed programming through robust partner engagement and capacity building, advocacy, education, and research activities in Chicago’s black, Asian and Latinx communities.

Signature OCECHE programs and examples of collaborative community work include:

LUCERO, Latinos United for Cancer Education, Research and Outreach, our Latinx cancer control task force, works to engage Latinx communities within our catchment area and works to meet Latinx-focused cancer needs. LUCERO includes representation from various Latinx-serving community-based organizations, UChicago Medicine clinicians, cancer investigators and staff members from the Center for Supportive Oncology. LUCERO has administered a needs assessment to Chicagoland Latinx communities to understand their cancer-related priorities, barriers, needs and strengths. Using this data, LUCERO will identify key areas to focus their outreach work within local Latinx communities.

OCECHE staff lead efforts in the local African-American and Asian communities to disseminate NCI culturally-tailored education materials promoting cancer screening and early detection, clinical trial and biobanking participation. The Community Health Educators (CHEs) develop and foster meaningful collaborative relationships with many community- and faith-based organizations which can positively impact vulnerable community members.

OCECHE is an active participant in the National Cancer Institute’s Screen to Save program. Through Screen to Save, community health educators funded by the NCI’s National Outreach Network (NON) provide culturally-tailored, evidence-based education and resources on colorectal cancer screening, HPV vaccination, and clinical trials participation within racially and ethnically diverse and rural communities nationwide.

Although the NCI discontinued the grant program, the UCCCC continues to sustain it using institutional funds since September 2022.

OCECHE brings cancer expertise to the community through culturally-tailored, evidence-based community cancer education sessions. Our topics are wide-ranging and we can accommodate small and large groups virtually, onsite at community locations or at the UChicago Hyde Park campus. Our community cancer education session offerings include:

  • COVID-19 and Cancer Care
  • Cancer and Nutrition
  • Cancer Survivorship and Support
  • Breast Cancer Screening 
  • Cervical Cancer Screening and Early Detection
  • Tobacco Cessation

Are you interested in a topic related to cancer prevention, care or survivorship that’s not listed above? We may be able to tailor a cancer education session to meet the unique needs of your group; please contact us to coordinate.

We know that community health workers are trusted patient providers and advocates within the communities they serve and play an integral role in public health. We work with local community-based organizations and colleges to train community health workers on cancer-focused topics so that they can expand their reach within their communities, providing quality care and patient navigation. We are responsive to the needs of our community partners and can design community health worker trainings on a variety of topics related to cancer prevention, screening, treatment, patient care, and survivorship.  
Our HealthyU program provides virtual education to the community through webinars and online Q&A with UChicago Medicine oncologists, cancer researchers, cancer support staff, patients and community advocates. Our webinars cover a variety of topics and feature speakers from across the cancer continuum. The full library of HealthyU webinars can be found on our YouTube page.
We work with community stakeholders and cancer investigators at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center to broker relationships and allow for community integration into cancer research. We schedule consultations for cancer investigators looking to expand their community engagement efforts within their research programs as well as community stakeholders looking to become more involved in cancer-focused research projects.
Our Community-Academic Partnership Pilot Grant program was developed to connect community-based organizations with University of Chicago cancer investigators to allow for equitable collaboration on a cancer research project. The seed grant provides funding and partnership with a UC cancer researcher to participate in a community-driven cancer research experience.

The only bilingual formalized cancer survivorship support group for Chinese-speaking cancer survivors and caregivers, meeting the needs of this vulnerable immigrant community with a known high burden of gastrointestinal and lung cancer.

For more information, contact Helen Lam at

As part of our mission to increase participation and representation of diverse groups in cancer research, OCECHE drives community awareness to the national Connect for Cancer Prevention cohort study. The Connect study aims to enroll 200,000 participants over the next five years to further investigate the etiology of cancer and its outcomes, which may inform new approaches in precision prevention and early detection. UChicago Medicine is one of nine healthcare sites across the country participating in this research effort and will help recruit people from all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to ensure the study’s findings benefit the broadest number of people.

The OCECHE team members continue to play an important role in education and recruitment within diverse communities about the importance of participation and representation in the national All of Us research program.  Please visit the Illinois Precision Medicine Consortium website for additional information.

Members of the OCECHE team and its Community Advisory Board are leading efforts to advocate for cancer policies that impact patients in partnership with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Department of Public Health. OCECHE supports legislative initiatives at the local, state, and federal level that advance cancer research, reduce cancer disparities, and provide equitable access to cancer prevention information and screening resources. Our office works with local organizations to educate the community on cancer policy and provide avenues for inclusive advocacy work.
The Oncology Lifetime Learners is an online cancer education program developed by a cancer survivor and a faculty cancer expert. These self-guided learning modules allow the community to learn about cancer at their own pace and on their schedule. OCECHE offers learners who complete any four self-guided learning modules an Oncology Lifetime Learners certificate that can be used on a resume or CV to show prospective employers, education programs, etc., that they are furthering their cancer knowledge through our educational programming. Courses on cancer-focused topics include: HPV, colorectal cancer, clinical trials, lung cancer, breast density, Cancer 101, Cancer 201, and skin cancer.


The Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity (OCECHE) fosters strategic alliances with healthcare groups, as well as community, ethnic, and faith-based organizations, to increase cancer knowledge in the community and engage participation in research and clinical trials. These organizations can be important social anchors in many communities, offering unique opportunities to reach underserved populations.

Listed below is a sampling of the strategic partnerships that the OCECHE maintains:

Involving cancer patients and community members directly in the research process is a critical component in generating scientific evidence that is useful to patient and, more importantly, trusted. In 2022, OCECHE recruited experienced community members to provide community perspectives and deepen engagement with each of the UCCCC research programs.

Immunology & Cancer
Ramona Burress 
Breast cancer survivor

Clinical & Experimental Therapeutics
Ivy Elkins
Lung cancer survivor

Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer
Kimberly Richardson
Breast & ovarian cancer survivor

Cancer Prevention & Control 
Nichelle Stigger
Lung cancer survivor
For over a decade, the UCCCC has partnered with minority-serving institution Chicago State University (CSU) to increase underrepresented minorities in the healthcare workforce as a mechanism to reduce disparities and advance research pertinent to the community. 

In 2022, the UCCCC deepened this commitment and partnership by developing Associate Memberships for CSU faculty to provide research opportunities for them and help better diversify UCCCC’s researcher pool. 

The two associate members from CSU are:

George R. Smith Jr., EdD, MPH
Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and coordinator of the undergraduate program in public health at CSU

Yashika Watkins, PhD, MPH
Associate Professor in the Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences at CSU