Students Rising Above

by Jennifer Mistrot and Christin Ayers

(KPIX 5) — Irmina Benson is a natural born teacher, and speaker. Recently, Benson spent several hours explaining to a group of scientific researchers what she did during her summer internship, and it’s impressive. The college student studied lung disease at Stanford’s Canary Center, part of an innovative program whose goal is to get young people interested in pursuing careers as cancer researchers.

The Canary Center’s focus is early cancer detection, and that course of study holds a special appeal for Benson. When Benson was in high school her mom was diagnosed with cancer. So Benson vowed to learn everything she could about the disease.

“Reading about it, taking classes on it, learning about it,” recalled Benson. “Watching my mom dealing with it was very difficult for me, and I think that is a big reason why.”

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Being the family caretaker is a role Benson embraced early on. Dynamics in her home were tough. Her parents split up, the family moved, and Benson and her siblings struggled with racist bullying.

“My siblings and I did face a lot of discrimination and a lot of racialized bullying when we were younger,” recalled Benson. “That was very difficult. And I would say still affects me today because I am still black and I am still a woman and regardless that is something that I am going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.”

Studying became Benson’s safe space and Students Rising Above her lifeline.

“They came in and they helped me with organization, with preparation,” said Benson. “And they love their jobs.”

But it’s her twin that Benson credits the most for her success. Calvin is transgender and Benson says he inspired her to be compassionate and to embrace diversity in all forms.

“My twin has always pushed me to look outside of the box and to be selfless,” explained Benson. “Pushing me to think largely about other people who are around me and to think about other marginalized groups, think about myself and my own culture. He has definitively shaped who I am.”

Benson plans on being a doctor, and serving communities of color and others who need extra care. Her training at Stanford this summer will be part of that future.

“I personally enjoy caring about others and being an advocate for others,” said Benson. “I am not afraid to say what I feel. And I am not afraid to speak in the face of adversity, speak in the face of discrimination.”