Clarence High School, Hamburg High School Students Tie for First Place in Junior Robotic Surgeon Challenge

Moog Inc. awards scholarships to 3 finalists in unique program designed by Roswell Park surgeon, area educator
Friday, May 9, 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ball placement. Suture pass. Needle handle and exchange. These are terms you’ll typically hear only in conversations involving surgical staff or medical students. But thanks to the first-ever Junior Robotic Surgeon Challenge (JRSC) at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), you just might hear those phrases uttered by area high-school students.

This innovative program, designed by Khurshid Guru, MD, Director of the Roswell Park Center for Robotic Surgery, in collaboration with Eileen O’Brien, PhD, a science educator and administrator at Immaculate Conception School in East Aurora, brought 67 students from nine area high schools to RPCI for a 12-week course on the fundamental skills of robot-assisted surgery. Robot-assisted surgeries are minimally invasive surgical procedures carried out with assistance from a highly specialized surgical robot under the control and oversight of an experienced surgeon. Compared to traditional “open” surgeries, these procedures typically involve smaller incisions, less blood loss and quicker recovery time. At Roswell Park, robot-assisted procedures are used in the treatment of many urologic, gastrointestinal, head-and-neck, thoracic and gynecologic cancers.

On Saturday, April 26, as the final rounds of the inaugural JRSC program wound down to a close, the top two finalists faced off in a head-to-head surgical-skills competition that saw the pair performing actual robot-assisted surgery on a synthetic bladder in Roswell Park operating rooms, observed by an expert panel of judges, as an audience watched the procedures remotely from a Roswell Park auditorium.

Finalists, Participating Schools

Hamburg High School sophomore Taylor Goodman and Alex Tryjankowski, a senior at Clarence High School, tied for first place following that final round, during which they each performed a procedure known as robot-assisted anastomosis on a synthetic bladder. The two were awarded $750 scholarships toward college or post-secondary continuing education from event sponsor Moog Inc. at the conclusion of that 90-minute final round, and third-place finisher Ryan Zuwalski, a senior at St. Francis High School, won a $250 scholarship, also provided by Moog.

“The surgeries performed by our two finalists were outstanding,” says Dr. Guru, who is also Robert P. Huben Endowed Professor of Oncology at Roswell Park and Director of the Institute’s ATLAS Project, or Applied Technology Laboratory for Advanced Surgery, which facilitated the Junior Robotic Surgeon Challenge. “Among all our participants, I could tell I was looking at the future surgeons and engineers of Western New York and beyond.”

Public and private schools across Western New York were invited to take part in the training program, which has allowed 67 students from nine high schools to learn about robot-assisted surgery using the same curriculum, jointly developed by RPCI and the University at Buffalo (UB), that is used to train surgeons from around the world. The nine schools that signed on to participate were the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, Clarence High School, East Aurora High School, Hamburg High School, Mount Mercy Academy, Mount St. Mary Academy, Nardin Academy, St. Francis High School and Williamsville East High School.

“As we were designing the program, we worried that the curriculum and the tasks we’d set out for the students would be too difficult, but the students proved us wrong,” noted Dr. O’Brien, who is STEM coordinator at Immaculate Conception School. “You can talk about STEM and STREAM,” she said, referring to umbrella terms for the fields of science, technology, writing, engineering, the arts and math, “but what teachers need to do is get their students excited about science. And the way to do that is to take them onto the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and have them see the applications of what they’re learning, and that’s just what this program did.”

The event also included a career fair in which medical professionals and exhibitors from RPCI, the UB School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and Moog Inc. discussed career pathways and demonstrated medical technologies including simulation, brain-computer interface and virtual-reality systems.

Participants, educators and parents who attended the JRSC finals said the program provided real-world opportunities and meaningful inspiration for the students. 

“This program has changed my daughter’s life,” said Amy Sullivan, mother of an East Aurora High School student who finished in the top eight among Challenge participants. “She was interested in medicine before, and it was a possibility for the future. After her first Junior Robotic Surgeon session, it became more than a ‘maybe.’ It’s been an unbelievable opportunity.”

“I teach organic chemistry mainly to students who are interested in getting into some kind of health profession,” noted Margaret Goodman, PhD, an associate professor at D’Youville College and stepmom Taylor Goodman, one of the two first-place finishers. “Programs like this are invaluable. Anything that can get students excited and hook them early is worth its weight in gold. It might just provide the spark needed to set them on a path or to sustain their ambition.”

Additional Awards

A number of other awards were presented at the conclusion of the April 26 event. Those award winners and their prizes are outlined below.

  • Best Essay Award ($100 scholarship): Ananya Murthy, Williamsville East High School, “Overview of robot-assisted surgery”
  • Best Quotation Award ($100 scholarship): Claudine Karambizi, Nardin Academy. Winning quote: “Dreaming doesn’t change the world, thinking does. Roswell Park allows youth to not only dream, but to think and achieve.”
  • Best Overall RoSS (Robotic Surgical Simulator) Score ($100 scholarship): Jordan Karnyski, East Aurora High School
  • Best Team Spirit Award (signed Buffalo Bills jersey): East Aurora High School
  • Scholastic Bowl First Place (signed Buffalo Bills jersey): Clarence High School
  • Scholastic Bowl Second Place (signed Buffalo Sabres hockey stick): Mount St. Mary Academy
  • Scholastic Bowl Third Place (plaque): East Aurora High School

Looking Ahead: Junior Robotic Surgeon Challenge Summer 2015

Roswell Park is now accepting applications for the next Junior Robotic Surgeon Challenge, to be offered in two sessions during the summer of 2015. Send inquiries to Erinn Field, ATLAS Project program coordinator, at


The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, RPCI is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.


Media Contact: 

Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager