Students Shine at Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge

Pictured: From L to R: James Peabody, MD; First-Place Champion Christian Prechtl; Congressman Brian Higgins; Khurshid Guru, MD; Second-Place Champion Stephen Marzano; James Mohler, MD

"This program has changed my life."

For many high school students, summer represents a time for rest and relaxation. However, for 70 remarkable Western New York teens, this past summer was spent acquiring life-changing skills and taking a big first step toward possible careers in health care.

For the second consecutive year, Roswell Park and the ATLAS Program hosted the Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge (JRSC), a competition featuring students from 30 local high schools. Over the course of two months, these aspiring surgeons performed mock operations with the same cutting-edge technology used by professionals, including the da Vinci Surgical System®, and received classroom instruction from experts in the field.

At the final challenge, held earlier this month at Roswell Park, incoming St. Francis High School senior, Christian Prechtl, claimed top overall honors from JRSC judges and robotic surgeons, James Mohler, MD, and James Peabody, MD, for successfully operating on a synthetic bladder.

“The JRSC tested every aspect of a person,” Prechtl said. “I learned from some of the best that not just Roswell Park, but the world, has to offer.”

As First-Place JRSC Champion, Prechtl earned a $2,000 scholarship toward college or continuing education, while runner-up, Clarence High School’s Stephen Marzano, received a $1,000 scholarship.

“The JRSC program helped me realize my interest in surgery,” said Marzano. “It taught me how well-rounded any medical professional needs to be.”

“I was excited — and worried — to face off against my fellow competitor, Steve [Marzano],” said Prechtl. “The best competitor had been selected. I would not have chosen anyone else to compete against.”

Other individuals recognized at the final event included Lafayette High’s Msaada Nankumba, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo whose family has been living in the United States for less than a year.

“This program has changed my life,” said Nankumba, who will begin classes at Canisius College this fall. “I have a great passion for medicine because I believe it is my vocation, and will make true my dream of helping people reduce their pain and suffering.”

“More surgeries are going to be done with robots,” added Kyla Threats, who spoke with WGRZ-TV Channel 2 about her JRSC experience and the benefits of minimally invasive surgery. Threats is a graduating senior from The Park School of Buffalo and recipient of the Champion of Teamwork award.

“One day, I hope to be a physician, preferably a surgeon,” said Prechtl. “The JRSC truly brought me one step closer to my goals.”

2015 JRSC Award Recipients

1st Place Champion: Christian Prechtl, St. Francis High School

2nd Place Champion: Stephen Marzano, Clarence High School

Best MCAT Score: Jill Stachowski, Immaculata Academy

Best Practicum Score: Camryn Grey, Maryvale High School

Best Application Portfolio: Maeve Connolly, Nardin Academy

Champion of Ethics: Ayoub Siam, Williamsville North High School

Champion of Compassion: Msaada Nankumba, Lafayette High School

Champion of Leadership: Stephen Marzano, Clarence High School

Champion of Teamwork: Kyla Threats, The Park School of Buffalo

Best Team Performance: The Fantastic Forceps:

  • Leah Ferger, Clarence High School
  • Bridget Herod, St. Mary’s High School
  • Nylah Pringle, Hutchinson Central Tech High School
  • Matthew Roche, Canisius High School
  • Emily Tocco, Nardin Academy
  • Bhavana Upadhyaya, Williamsville East High School

The JRSC was designed by Khurshid Guru, MD, Director of the Roswell Park Center for Robotic Surgery, and Eileen O’Brien, PhD, founder of Learning Triangle Labs, LLC.

Want to get involved with next year’s Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge? Email Erinn Field, ATLAS Project Coordinator, at