News | June 10, 2022

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FGCU super-student brings understanding, compassion to cancer research

Contributors: James Greco, Photography

photo shows FGCU alumna
Spring Honors College graduate Kaelyn Julmeus will travel to Poland on a yearlong Fulbright grant before applying to medical schools.

Everyone has 24 hours in a day to work with, and judging from her accomplishments, spring graduate Kaelyn Julmeus wastes few of hers.

Julmeus earned 11 student awards on her way to a Florida Gulf Coast University biology degree, including a Fulbright grant to teach English in Poland. She’s one of three Fulbright recipients in the Class of 2022 who brought a new distinction to FGCU: Fulbright Top Producer for the U.S. student program.

“I don’t like to talk about myself and my accomplishments,” Julmeus said. “To say I am here today on my own would be a flat-out lie. I am here because of many mentors like Dr. Rhodes and Dr. Terumi.”

The mentors to whom this aspiring surgical oncologist refers are FGCU’s Lyndsay Rhodes, Ph.D., and Terumi Rafferty-Osaki, Ph.D., who first inspired Julmeus as a sophomore.

“Dr. Terumi pushed me to see the bigger picture in why I want to be a doctor,” Julmeus said. Rhodes, meanwhile, introduced Julmeus to FGCU’s Cancer Research Program. “I feel like when I became connected to my professors, I started to get really involved,” she said.

Despite her humility, an Eagle with Julmeus’ resume cannot go unnoticed. Her actions speak louder than her selfless words. Those 11 awards include induction into FGCU’s Hall of Fame  and a prestigious Fulbright grant, for which she will travel to Poland in September to complete an English Teaching Assistantship. That trip comes after Julmeus travels to Peru with the Honors College to study health disparities in the Amazon.

photo shows FGCU alumna
“Cancer is a hard topic, but the task becomes 10 times harder when your patients do not understand,” said Kaelyn Julmeus, who has been heavily involved in FGCU’s Cancer Research Program.

Julmeus’ resume also lists her as a Work in Scholarly Experiences and Research (WiSER) assistant, president of the Cancer Research Program, Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) teaching assistant and ambassador for the Alumni Association and the Office of Scholarly Research and Innovation. Her community service also includes being a founding developer of the Chalk Walk event at Golisano’s Children’s Hospital of SWFL.

Julmeus embraced her hands-on experience at the hospital. Working in the Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Unit, she loved interacting with children who were under the specialized care of nurses in a daycare setting due to their health conditions.

Soon, Julmeus realized she could combine her passions for cancer research and advocacy.  In spring 2021, she contacted the American Cancer Society to see how FGCU’s Cancer Research Program could be more involved. Discussions eventually led to the Chalk Walk initiative, which involves FGCU volunteers chalking colorful designs on the grounds outside of the pediatric cancer area so the young patients can look out their windows and see something cheerful.

As to why Julmeus decided to get involved in cancer research, she noted, “Dr. Rhodes gave me the opportunity, and from literature review, I learned that triple-negative breast cancer – the subtype we work on – disproportionally affects minority women like myself.”

photo shows FGCU alumna
Kaelyn Julmeus has been an enthusiastic Eagle since attending orientation in 2018.

Attending conferences on this type of cancer in Birmingham, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana, Julmeus was able to promote her research. She learned through her work that cancer is a difficult disease to research and translate to society. She says it’s important that doctors build strong relationships with their patients, teaching about the complexity of the disease and courses of action.

“Cancer is a hard topic, but the task becomes 10 times harder when your patients do not understand,” Julmeus said.

Before heading off to Poland for a year, she plans to take the Medical College Admissions Test. When she returns, she’ll be working at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland in cancer biology while applying to medical schools that include cancer centers and surgical oncology residencies.

“I don’t consider my greatest accomplishments to be anything physical,” Julmeus said with a smile. “I am most proud to call myself an influence to others.” She encourages Eagles to apply for grants and pursue leadership roles and is always willing to offer advice when asked.

Julmeus says she’s most looking forward to her newfound independence, made possible by the travel opportunities her medical aspirations have afforded her. “I have never left home, and I have never been abroad,” she said. “I am looking forward to opening the next chapter in my life.”

— Alexa Gruber is a senior communication major in FGCU Marketing & Communication’s internship program. Students interested in a paid reporting/writing internship should contact Keith Gibson at [email protected].