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‘Look at what you can dream, and then create it’: Massey director delivers keynote address at Virginia State University

Apr 06, 2022

Dr. Winn speaks at VSU

On Monday, April 4, 2022, Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at VCU Massey Cancer Center, served as the keynote speaker during the Honors College Spring Convocation at Virginia State University (VSU).

“You already know what you’re supposed to do,” Winn told the students. “You already know what’s not only expected of you but what you expect of yourself.”

VSU, which is among the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), recognized six students for their outstanding achievements. Winn said their successes are not just about themselves but about other people of color both today and in the future.

“Greatness is not a matter of chance as much as it is a matter of choice,” said Winn, who is also the senior associate dean for cancer innovation at the VCU School of Medicine. “I understand you have a lot of pressure on you. We need you. Your coming to college and your looking at the professions that come after this is not so much [about], ‘Oh, that’s going to be cool, I’m going to make this money.’ You’re being called into action to serve in the context of an avocation.”

Winn discussed how cancer is the number one cause of people dying in Virginia, and African Americans make up a large percentage of the mortality rate. He encouraged the students to look for solutions in many ways, including through the use of artificial intelligence.

“New technology is here, but how are we to be a part of the conversation to drive it? Very few women and few minorities are being called to fill those openings,” Winn acknowledged. “Don’t look at what you see right before your eyes; look at what you can dream, and then create it. That’s what you’re being called to do.”

Winn advised students to have both a mentor and sponsor in their lives after graduation. While they can be one and the same, Winn said mentors have a content of expertise to offer the courage and tools students need to become full-functioning in their career. Sponsors, however, connect them to the right opportunities.

“A sponsor looks at you and says from a career path, ‘I can open up these doors for you not because there’s anything that I want particularly from you but because I believe and see the greatness in you and know that you’re going to go on and carry this on,’” Winn said.

Winn’s keynote address furthered the partnership between Massey and VSU; in October 2021, the institutions received a prestigious “team science” grant from the National Cancer Institute. It marked the first time a Virginia-based cancer center and HBCU joined forces to secure such funding. Massey and VSU will use $1.7 million over four years for cross-institutional collaboration among multiple teams of scientists, robust community engagement and in-person research training.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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