DKMS + Park: Building Skills, Saving Lives

Many of the Park Scholarships programs’ strongest partnerships began with a single connection. One exemplar of this is the Park Scholars’ work with DKMS (formerly known as Delete Blood Cancer), an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders. DKMS strives to increase awareness, recruit bone marrow donors, and raise funds to cover the costs of adding new donors to the registry. Over the past three academic years, Park Scholars have supported DKMS’ efforts by registering nearly 600 bone marrow donors – five of whom have since been matched with patients and completed the stem cell or bone marrow donation.

In 2014, Jodee Ruppel ‘05, U.S. director of donor recruitment for DKMS, suggested that her East Coast donor recruitment team manager, Bob Murray, partner with the Park Scholars to conduct bone marrow donor registration drives on NC State’s campus. With the assistance of Greg Wilson ‘10, an academic advisor at NC State and former Service Raleigh co-chair, Murray held the first of these donor registration drives in conjunction with Service Raleigh 2014’s kickoff event in Carmichael Gym.

Later that spring, the Park Scholarships office put out a call to nonprofits with a local presence – Including DKMS – to submit project proposals for the Class of 2017’s Civic Engagement Initiatives (CEIs). CEIs introduce Park Scholars to community needs and how organizations operate to address those needs and effect positive change. Over the course of their sophomore year, scholars work in small groups with project sponsors to implement solutions to community challenges, building transferable skills along the way.

“We were honored to be selected as one of the nonprofits that the students would work with during the school year,” said cei-proposal-buttonMurray. “We had three outstanding students – Rizwan Dard ‘17, Sammi Fernandes ‘17, and Adrienne Williams ‘17 – participate in our 2014-2015 CEI.”

Murray charged his CEI team with coordinating a campus-wide bone marrow registration drive. Dard, Fernandes, and Williams reached out to NC State’s individual colleges, student organizations, and residence halls to build awareness of DKMS’ cause and encourage each unit’s constituents to participate in the donor registration drive. Fraternity and Sorority Life was especially supportive, and agreed to award points in their Greek Week competition to students who registered as donors.

“Working with DKMS was a truly humbling experience,” said Williams. “This organization is a beacon of hope for those suffering with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell disease.”

Delighted by the success of his CEI team’s donor registration drive, Murray sponsored another project for the Park Class of 2018’s CEIs. This time, he tasked Donnielle Jones ‘18, Carson Lay ‘18, and Neelam Modi ‘18 with registering greater numbers of African American, Native American, and Hispanic bone marrow donors, as these ethnic groups are significantly underrepresented on the national bone marrow registry. Ultimately, this CEI team hosted donor registration drives at Asian Focus NC’s 2016 Career Development Conference and NC State’s Pow-Wow, and forged strong new relationships between DKMS and key campus organizations.

In the project summaries both CEI teams completed at year’s end, they cited communication, effective leadership, teamwork, and delegation as skill sets they sharpened while planning, marketing, and executing the bone marrow donor registration drives.dkms-register-button

“Working with DKMS showed me that there’s an extreme lack of awareness on college campuses regarding the types of blood cancer that exist and what being a ‘bone marrow donor’ means,” said Modi. “Increasing this awareness proved to be quite the challenge at times; however, it was reassuring to work alongside passionate, service-oriented mentors like Bob Murray and witness patients in need receive a second chance at life.”

Fernandes was similarly moved. Last summer, after completing her CEI with DKMS, she shadowed in Duke University Health System’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic. There she saw firsthand the life-changing effects of receiving a bone marrow transplant.

“I was so blown away by this experience that I decided to look into some way to continue my involvement with DKMS,” said Fernandes, who is applying to medical school. “I contacted Bob Murray and found out about the DKMS College Ambassadors program. I will be attending a conference in August with all the other College Ambassadors to learn more about the best strategies in raising awareness and funds to support DKMS.”

In the meantime, Murray is proposing DKMS’ third CEI project, and hopes to work with another team of Park Scholars to recruit more bone marrow donors to the registry. He is inspired by the scholars’ past accomplishments, and particularly by the five student donors who were matched with patients in need.

“For these five families, it was because of the efforts of the Park Scholars that there was hope for a cure,” said Murray. “If it was not for these drives, those five students probably would not have registered. But because of NC State and the Park Scholars, lives were saved.”dkms-host-drive

As donors remain on the registry until age 61, it’s possible that more donors who registered through Park Scholar-coordinated drives will save more patients’ lives in the future.

“That’s what makes this program so exciting,” Murray said.