Test tubes and lab equipment on shelves while a person looks into a microscope
Category: Spirit of Georgetown

Title: Student Cancer Researcher Launches Medical Career at Georgetown

Date Published: February 16, 2022
Jordan Kramer wears a red sweater in a headshot outside
Next fall, Jordan Kramer will build on her work in the lab of Dr. Richard Schlegel and the Center for Cell Reprogramming as she pursues a D.Phil. in paediatrics at the University of Oxford.

After watching her brother compete in taekwondo, Jordan Kramer (C’22) started competing, too. 

“When I was younger, I was 100% convinced that if my sibling could do it, I could do it, too,” says Kramer.

A biology major, cancer researcher and part-time professional baker, Kramer credits her perseverance and indomitable spirit to her taekwondo training, which took her to the U.S. Open and Junior Olympics. 

A young Jordan Kramer wears taekwondo cloths next to a trophy taller than she is
Kramer applies the discipline she learned in taekwondo at a young age to long days in the lab.

“It’s a very brutal sport,” says Kramer. “You’re not just losing, you’re actually physically getting harmed. And so learning how to come back from difficulties and how to sort of grit your teeth and get through it was a huge thing for me.

Kramer’s brother was also interested in science. He would send her scientific papers and teach her how to read them. So she became interested in science, too. 

“If he liked it, I liked it,” says Kramer. “There’s definitely a little bit of mad scientist energy behind it, but I just think it’s so much fun to play around with the different chemicals and do research so that you have information that no one else has.”

Kramer’s brother is currently enrolled in an M.D./Ph.D. program. Next fall, Kramer will pursue a D.Phil. in paediatrics at the University of Oxford with an intended career in medicine, too.

While Kramer has looked up to and learned a lot from her older brother, she has also forged academic and professional paths all her own.

At 16 Kramer began conducting cancer research at a hospital in her hometown of Houston, TX. Her passion to continue this research brought her to Georgetown, where she received a Goldwater Scholarship for her excellence in the natural sciences, joined the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, participated in Georgetown’s academically rigorous Carroll Fellows Initiative and became a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

The support Kramer received on the Hilltop — and from her brother a couple hundred miles away — confirmed her professional path toward research and medicine. 

“Georgetown has amazing facilities and amazing research…and they also do such a good job of mentoring undergraduates,” says Kramer. “I can’t imagine any other school where professors would’ve taken the time to mentor me, to help me believe in myself, to help me work through projects and answer my questions.”

Fighting Cancer With Science

Heidi Elmendorf, associate professor of biology, taught Kramer in her “Foundations of Biology I” course. During office hours, Elmendorf encouraged Kramer to think beyond memorization of what might appear on a test and to consider what she could do with the material. 

“She really made me feel like I could be good at science,” says Kramer.

Elmendorf helped connect Kramer to the lab of Dr. Richard Schlegel — the co-developer of the HPV vaccine and one of the main reasons Kramer came to Georgetown. When Kramer accepted a position in Schlegel’s lab — an opportunity normally unheard of for undergraduate students, let alone first-years — she began working on non-invasive treatments for cervical cancer. 

“Georgetown has amazing facilities and amazing research…and they also do such a good job of mentoring undergraduates. I can’t imagine any other school where professors would’ve taken the time to mentor me, to help me believe in myself, to help me work through projects and answer my questions.”

— Jordan Kramer

Kramer continued her laboratory work virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she will be an author on an upcoming manuscript — the findings of which will have a global clinical impact on women’s health. 

“Jordan has a very optimistic, positive attitude when performing research,” says Schlegel, professor of pathology at Georgetown’s School of Medicine. “She is undaunted by unanticipated obstacles, including the pandemic, and always seems to find the energy to continue her work.”

Jordan Kramer stands in a lab holding open a report
Kramer first started researching cancer when she was 16, finding she was “captivated by the novelty of science.”

In addition to her work in Schlegel’s lab, which she recently completed, Kramer has contributed her research assistance and scholarship to the Texas Children’s Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

But Kramer’s passion for improving cancer treatment doesn’t end in the lab — she also volunteers with pediatric cancer patients to connect on a personal level. 

When her in-person volunteer work at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital was cut short due to the pandemic, she coordinated MD Anderson’s first pediatric Zoom summer camps.

“Whether it was the dance party, a camp song or cabin time, Jordan stepped out of her comfort zone to fully participate and gave her campers the confidence to fully participate as well,” says Tara VanDerpoel, program coordinator for the Pediatrics Support Program at MD Anderson. 

‘Chemistry and Cookies’

Kramer also finds joy in baking — her “acceptable science.” She founded Chemistry and Cookies, a baking business that offers a menu of cakes, cupcakes and cookies and organizes weekly bakes for fellow students to relieve stress.

“It is such a signature Jordan move to tackle two research internships plus multiple medical volunteer opportunities in the middle of a pandemic year when most folks are just trying to tread water,” says Elmendorf. “The phrase is usually ‘making lemonade out of lemons,’ but in Jordan’s case it would be a full-on delectable lemon cake since she is also a professional baker.”

Ultimately, it is Kramer’s desire to put an end to cancer and ease the suffering of those receiving treatments that has motivated her career in medicine.

“I love patient care,” says Kramer. “I want to be able to go work with the patient, see what the patient needs and how the therapy is affecting the patient…then be able to take that back to the lab and use that information to create better treatments.”

Inspired by the mentorship and support she received early in her life and professional career — from Schlegel and the members of his lab, from Elmendorf, from her brother and family — Kramer also considers teaching others to be an important component of her work moving forward.

“My brother will answer my questions at any hour, and not everyone has that,” she says. “I just could never say no to someone who comes to me and asks me to teach them something.”