Nicole Foto is a New Dorp High School student working to make a difference in her community by raising awareness about skin cancer on Staten Island.
The 16-year-old is part of a student-led group called Project Sun Safe Staten Island. At the core of the group is an Instagram campaign that teaches kids and adults how to protect themselves from skin cancer while outdoors. The group has 15 students. It’s run by Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) under the Cancer Prevention in Action (CPiA) grant from the NYS Department of Health and Health Research, Inc.
Nicole has been a member and leader of Project Sun Safe for two years now. With a talent for art, she designed many of the initial templates used in the campaign. In addition to using Instagram, the group holds presentations to spread the word about the dangers of skin cancer. Just recently, the CPiA and Project Sun Safe teams presented to over 600 students at New Dorp.
“The main goal is to talk about the issues with misinformation around skin cancer,” the 11th grader said. “So, we’re targeting Staten Island specifically. Adults as well as young adults in Staten Island. We teach them about the different types of facts that they might not know.”
View this post on Instagram
Skin Cancer on Staten Island
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Over 100 people die from melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer—and nearly 1,000 people are newly diagnosed each year in NYC. The incidence rate for melanoma in Staten Island is substantially higher compared to the rest of NYC, according to the HICCC.
At four separate assemblies at the school, the Project Sun Safe core team taught students about skin cancer prevention. They discussed social media campaign content creation, inviting students to share their existing knowledge about skin cancer. This included sun safety and dispelling misinformation. A focus was placed on the ability for skin cancer to affect people of all skin tones and backgrounds. Each assembly ended with an invitation for students to join Project Sun Safe and work with the group to create simple, understandable Instagram content that educates other youth about skin cancer risk reduction.
Using Social Media to Spread Awareness
The Project Sun Safe Instagram page is colorfully designed and eye catching. Posts contain quick, easy-to-read information about skin cancer on Staten Island, information about sun protection and more. Many posts go into depth with videos and illustrations for those who want to learn more. Information includes:
- Types of sunscreen: Any sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 is good to use outside. There are many types of sunscreen you can use that are also specific to you skin type.
- Where to find free sunscreen on Staten Island: As part of the CPiA grant, free sunscreen is available at several Staten Island locations, including Snug Harbor and Wagner High School.
- Wearing sunscreen year round—and every day: It’s important to lather up daily and year round, not only in summer. You can still get damage from the sun on cloudy or snow days.
Not only is Nicole playing an important role in raising awareness about skin cancer on Staten Island, she’s learning lots of valuable life and professional skills, too.
“This working group has taught me numerous skills that include public speaking, leadership, public health, and teamwork,” Nicole said. “It’s given me many opportunities that have strengthened my resume as well as provided me with a network of supportive individuals that I look up to. It has driven me to be more involved with activities that benefit my community. And I am excited to see how much this group will grow and how much its impact will spread.”
A Career in Medicine
Nicole’s desire to help her community doesn’t stop at Project Sun Safe and raising awareness about skin cancer on Staten Island. She’s also an intern with Columbia Cancer Center’s prestigious YES in THE HEIGHTS program. The program is a competitive summer internship for high school students who have an interest in pursuing STEM fields.
“I want to go into medicine,” Nicole said about plans for her future. She added, “I specifically want to get into cardiology, but I’ve always wanted to do cancer research. I think I want to do that on the side. I don’t know if I see myself as an oncologist, but I definitely see myself doing cancer research.”
Maya Lipsman, MPH, is the leader of the student-led group. She works with Dr. Larisa Geskin, Dr. Ashley Stephens and medical student and cutaneous oncology fellow, Celine Schreidah at Columbia to give the teens guidance on their project. Lipsman is also the project director for CPiA in Staten Island and research project coordinator at Columbia Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement.
CPiA has a strong presence on Staten Island. It works closely with local community organizations to help them adopt sun safety policies and purchase materials like sunscreen dispensers, shade tents, and signage that helps the public reduce their risk of skin cancer. Columbia Cancer Center is partnered with Dr. Ana Mendez at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) and Dr. Ginny Mantello at the Office of the Staten Island Borough President to complete the activities of the grant. The partners work together by making connections with local organizations to implement sun safety policies and deliver HPV vaccination education.For more information about the program contact Maya Lipsman, project director, at: [email protected].
Wanna read more stuff like this? Get our newsletters packed with ideas, events, and information for parents in Staten Island.