St. Francis High School Student Places First in Roswell Park Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Over the last two months, students from high schools across Western New York learned about robot-assisted surgery using the same Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center curriculum that is used to train surgeons from around the world. This past weekend, as the the 2nd annual Greater Buffalo Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge (JRSC) wound to a close, Christian Prechtl of Dunkirk was named First-Place JRSC Champion after performing robot-assisted surgery on a synthetic bladder in an actual Roswell Park operating room. An audience gathered in a Roswell Park auditorium watched Prechtl and Second-Place Champion Stephen Marzano of East Amherst performing these surgeries via telecast, with experts rating their performance.

Prechtl, an incoming senior at St. Francis High School, received a $2,000 scholarship toward college or post-secondary continuing education, and Marzano, an incoming senior at Clarence High School, earned a $1,000 scholarship. The surgical procedures were evaluated by Roswell Park’s own James Mohler, MD, Chair of the Department of Urology, as well as Henry Ford Health System’s James O. Peabody, MD, both surgical urologists and experts in robot-assisted surgery.

The Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge introduces participants to various career opportunities within health care using hands-on, practical exercises and classroom instruction as well as guest lectures from accomplished professionals. This innovative program, designed by Khurshid Guru, MD, Director of the Roswell Park Center for Robotic Surgery, and Eileen O’Brien, PhD, a science educator and founder of Learning Triangle Labs LLC, brought 70 students from 30 area public and private high schools to Roswell Park and affiliated sites for an intensive 8-week course on the fundamental skills of robot-assisted surgery.

Also receiving special recognition during the program finals on Aug. 8 were:

  • 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, Park School of Buffalo
  • Best “Mock MCAT” Score: Jill Stachowski, Immaculata Academy
  • Best Practicum Score: Camryn Grey, Maryvale High School
  • Best Application Portfolio: Maeve Connolly, Nardin Academy
  • 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; Bhavana Upadhyaya, Williamsville East High School

“This program has changed my life; I have gained a lot of social skills that will not only help me be a better person as an individual but also to be somebody who will add value in our society,” said Nankumba, who came to the United States as a refugee only eight months ago, in accepting his Champion of Ethics award.

This year’s JRSC, coordinated by Erinn Field and Allison Polakiewicz of Roswell Park’s Applied Technology Laboratory for Advanced Surgery (ATLAS), benefitted from collaborations with The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Buffalo Zoo, Moog Inc. and Performance Management Partners Inc. The program received generous support from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, KeyBank and Say Yes to Education Buffalo.

Saturday’s final also included exhibits and technology demonstrations from key educational institutions and industry partners; remarks and awards presentations from the leaders of Buffalo Press On!, a character-development program created by the ATLAS program and led by John Scannell of Moog Inc., Sharon Randaccio of Performance Management Partners and Pamela Germain and Camille Wicher, both of Roswell Park; a talk on enhancing visual literacy from Albright-Knox Deputy Director Joe-Lin Hill, PhD; and a keynote address from Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-26).

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.

For information about the 2016 Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge, please contact Erinn Field, ATLAS Project program coordinator, at


The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, Roswell Park 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 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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