Kevin Eng is an Assistant Professor of Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, which is a multifaceted job.
“I am a scientist trained in mathematics, statistics, genetics, and oncology – that means I am trained to think about systems, patterns, uncertainty, and cancer,” he said.
“My lab and our collaborators study how to use the genome to treat ovarian cancer. Our goal is to reverse engineer weaknesses to exploit ways to monitor tumor progression. It’s work that requires a trained scientist who can converse with multiple fields, who has a little creativity, and a lot of ability to absorb failure."
When he was in 10th grade, Eng took a seminar about education theory with Kerry Maguire, a Park English teacher at the time.
“It was very illuminating for me and I started reading more about Park’s original philosophy,” he said. “I started experimenting with the key ideas from Mary Hammett Lewis’ notes. For one thing, I never ate lunch indoors again.”
Miss Lewis’ ideas about Progressive education were an inspiration to Eng. And he turned inspiration into action.
“I convinced my advisers to grant me a ridiculous number of independent studies,” said Eng. “I think I had two or three classroom periods and I used the rest of the time to start an advanced science seminar, to organize an Immersion for writing plays, and reworking the Upper School student government.
“I think all the independent studies came from having interests that we couldn’t fit into the normal curriculum,” he said. “A lot of them have become classes that are offered at Park or would be possible today.”
After graduation in 2001, Eng attended Brown University where he concentrated in statistics.
“Brown University was like four more years at Park: the ‘New Curriculum’ encouraged us to take the classes we wanted without prerequisites, any class could be taken pass/fail,” he said.
“My diploma from Brown is in Latin and the translation is ‘the study of random things.’ This can be taken two ways,” Eng says, smiling. “It could either be the study of random variation or it could be just the study of a bunch of random things.”
In the summer after his sophomore year, Eng “talked his way into” a research position at the University of Wisconsin.
“Essentially I was just an apprentice,” he explained. “The guy I got was a clinical trials guy. He showed me the ropes in terms of theory and how all the pieces worked.
“I think of Park and how it gives you this confidence that you can just walk into a brand new field and learn the advanced stuff really fast.”
Working on research was when Eng became invested in the idea that he could contribute to improving cancer treatments. He says cancer research appeals to him both intellectually and emotionally.
“When you read the statistics you appreciate the clinical magnitude of the disease,” he said. “You get a sense of what the individual families are going through.
After graduating from Brown, Eng moved on to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, earning a Master’s degree and a Ph.D., both in statistics. He worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City before returning to Western New York to take a position at Roswell Park.
One of the benefits of being home is it gives him a chance to make frequent visits to Park.
“I returned to Buffalo at a very opportune time for medical science and for The Park School,” he said. “I was fortunate to be invited to participate on the Board of Visitors and I was very excited to learn about the Science@Park capital campaign.”
“I learned that there is a tremendous opportunity to re-engineer the pond into a pond plus wetland plus marsh plus creek; that is, a state-of-the-art ecosystem that doubles as a research level outdoor laboratory.”
Eng said some people tell him his visions are too optimistic, that he's expecting too much of students.
“I see that other schools are beefing up their AP classes or building fancy training labs that train technicians, not scientists,” he says. “As a Park School graduate, I know there is a significant amount of real science to do on campus and this can only lead to confident and able science students at The Park School.”