Name: Jacob Dubner

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Major: Biology and Biochemistry; History Minor

Activities: Technical Director of the Penn Players Theatre Group; President of Colleges Against Cancer; Quiz Bowl Team; Manāna; Abt Lab group member

Street: Your interest in medicine is clear from your involvement on campus and your major, when and how did your passion for this field start? 

JD: Medicine is something that I’ve been interested in my entire life, but I would really say my focus and my real desire to contribute to the field began the summer after my freshman year when I had the opportunity to volunteer and do community health work in Uganda...witnessing extreme health disparities really motivated me to get involved in medicine.

Street: Can you tell me about your research project on combating dehydration in Uganda? How did you get involved with that and what made you interested in this research?

JD: This all began during my senior year of high school. I was taking a class in high school called “Research Science”... you identify some problem in the world and you design a tool to try to address that problem...with my good friend Jack Waters, we identified the issue of diarrheal diseases which are the second leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 around the world. The primary remedy for severe dehydration caused by diarrheal diseases is Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), which in its most basic form is a mixture of salt, sugar, and water...so there’s this really simple and effective treatment for dehydration, ORS, but in a lot of communities around the world, particularly rural regions of low and middle–income countries, ORS is not readily available. We designed what is called the ORTube that we distribute to communities all around the world...once people have this tool, they are able to measure the exact amounts of salt and sugar that they would need to make ORS using whatever the resources are in their own community...The following summer [of my senior year], we had the opportunity to pitch this idea to a bunch of different organizations who might want to work with us and help us make this tool a reality...we eventually found luck with an organization called Omni Med—they’re a community health organization that works in the Mukono district of Uganda. We had the opportunity to travel to Uganda the summer after my freshman year of college [and] do a small pilot trial of the ORTube among thirty community health workers in Uganda...it got a lot of positive results.

Street: How has this research project grown over the past few years?

JD:  We fully incorporated it as a non–profit organization in 2019...we have continued to work with Omni Med to distribute over 500 ORTubes...over the past 12 months we’ve been closely monitoring how these tubes have been used and we’re currently gathering data on a longitudinal study.

Street: You’re also the president of the Colleges Against Cancer club (CAC), can you tell me more about this role and how you first got involved with CAC? 

JD: We’re the American Cancer Society’s partner organization on Penn’s campus, so all the work that we do is about raising awareness about cancer, supporting individuals who are going through cancer or have survived cancer, and raising money to support the American Cancer Society and their research and advocacy for those with cancer. We organize speaker and volunteer events—our major event is Relay for Life which happens every spring. Relay for Life, during a non–pandemic time, is an event where hundreds of people from all across campus come together and rally around fighting cancer. In the past we’ve held it at Franklin Field, the Palestra, and Rockwell Gymnasium...we have performing arts groups, games, food, and speakers...We have a really powerful 'luminaria ceremony' that’s built around remembering those who have been lost to cancer. I think like a lot of people, I’ve had several family members who have had cancer and several who have passed away from cancer. This is an issue that has always been quite personal for me...To be totally honest, I never expected to be president after joining my freshman fall, but one thing led to another and my involvement grew because I really enjoyed the work I was doing in the club.

Street: What’s been the most rewarding part of your experience with CAC?

JD: The 'luminaria' component of my first relay was a really powerful moment that has inspired me on the path that I’m currently on...everyone in attendance has an opportunity to have a paper bag and write the name of someone that they know who has had cancer or has lost their life to cancer or write any message they want to put out there to support those who’ve been lost to cancer. We put glowsticks in the paper bags and we turn the lights out in whatever facility we’re in and we just have this moment of silence. We all put the bags in a circle and we take a lap around the bags and really just take in the moment. I had just lost my grandfather to cancer, so that was a powerful, reflective moment for me. That moment of silence, that moment of remembrance was really powerful for me. 

Street: What’s your involvement with Penn Players? Can you explain more about where your technical side of theater comes from?

JD: I’m the Technical Director and oversee all the technical operations for our theatre group and I recruit all of our production staff members...I’ve also served as our Master Carpenter, which is the person in charge of building sets for all of our shows. I got involved during high school with the technical part of theater, but I also played a lot of sports back then so I didn’t really have time to fully commit myself to this activity...When I arrived at Penn, I actually had very little intention of being involved with theater. I went to what was at the time called the Freshman Performing Arts Night (what is now called the Student Performing Arts Night) and there I saw all these amazing performing arts groups...I was especially blown away by the theatre groups. There was one portion where they had representatives of the tech community come out and invite everyone to tech interviews for the Theater Arts Council’s fall shows. After seeing these performances on stage and hearing that this opportunity existed, I knew that this was something that I at least wanted to try...I went to tech interviews and I ended up getting offered the role of Master Carpenter for the Penn Players fall production of 'Spring Awakening'...I was honestly surprised to be offered this role, I didn’t have the most extensive experience going in. Since that show, I’ve been the Master Carpenter for somewhere in–between eight to ten other shows. I’ve really enjoyed having this creative outlet in my life. If you’re studying organic chemistry or cell biology...it’s really nice at the end of the day to go to the PAC shop, where we build all of our sets. To go there and smash some stuff and put stuff together—it’s a really cool outlet. 

Street: What’s next for you?

JD: I’m currently applying to medical school...I’m now entering, hopefully, the interview process. My goal is to go straight through to medical school, so hopefully next fall I’ll be a student somewhere. 

Lightning Round

Street: What’s been your favorite class at Penn?

JD: Chem 251: Intro to Biochemistry (that course actually inspired me to change my major from chemistry to biochemistry)

Street: If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?

JD: Houston Hall. It’s a welcoming area where people from all over campus come together and that’s something I aspire to do.

Street: What’s something that people wouldn’t guess about you?

JD: I'm half–Chinese. My mom is from Hong Kong...most people when they see me have no idea that I have Asian heritage, but that's an important part of who I am. 

Street: There are two types of people at Penn… 

Those who own a Canada Goose and those who don’t own a Canada goose. 

Street: And you are?

I don’t own a Canada Goose. 


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