Outreach Highlight: Sandra Franco

During quarantine, CUPS members found many different ways to reach out and connect with their communities. We’ve heard powerful stories of postdocs volunteering with Columbia Researchers Against COVID-19, mentoring students online, writing op-eds to call for action and policy changes, and marching in demonstrations to demand racial justice and equality.

As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and take stock of everything that we’re grateful for during these uncertain times, CUPS would like to show gratitude to our hardworking postdocs. Every day this week, we will highlight a different postdoc and how they’ve lifted up their communities.

We begin our Outreach Highlight series with Sandra Franco, who is a postdoctoral research scientist in the Pathology and Cell Biology Department at CUIMC. Sandra will be starting a new position next month as Education and Outreach Coordinator at the New York Genome Center. Below, she shares her experience working with students as a volunteer for BioBus.

Sandra Franco

“My name is Sandra Franco. I love to talk about science with all audiences, but especially kids, since they can be so enthusiastic and ask very interesting and creative questions. That’s why I co-founded the Outreach & Communications Committee at CUPS, which I co-led until this past June. If you want to find me outside the lab, I’ll probably be having a beer in Gowanus or eating (on the patio) in the Lower East Side.

I’m really passionate about providing opportunities to underserved students to experience the thrill of discovery. During COVID-19 lockdown, it was clear to me that not all the students would have equal access to science resources and I wanted to do something to provide them with opportunities to engage with science, especially in those times where it is apparent the importance of having science education.

I volunteer with an organization called BioBus. BioBus is a lot of things at the same time: it is a bus, a lab and the door to a world full of science. BioBus has been bringing the joy of discovery to students in Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx for almost 10 years. Moreover, they have an amazing team of scientists that quickly reacted to the pandemic and lockdown and developed a whole set of online programs.

I volunteered with BioBus for two different activities. The first time, I participated in their popular “BioBus Student Town Halls.” In these interactive sessions, students can ask their questions regarding specific topics to scientists. Moreover, some council members also attended the Town Halls to explain how science is part of their daily work. I participated in a session on neuroscience and I was asked pretty difficult questions, such as “What is a thought?” or “Can our brain be rewired?”. I also volunteered in another activity called “Meet a Scientist”. The idea was to open an online space for middle school students to get to know a scientist, his/her research and ask him/her what they always wanted to know. And indeed I ended up with some interesting ideas about my project thanks to these amazing and curious kids that came up with several possibilities for the muscular dystrophy disease I am studying.

I guess the most challenging part of my volunteer experience was to develop scientific content that is accurate and precise but also interesting for a young audience. I believe this kind of activity makes us delve into our own research question, to try to answer things such as “Why do you study this?” or “Why is this important?”. I have to admit that at the beginning the task seemed difficult, but at the same type, it is an exercise that I recommend for everyone. Kids are so authentic that you get feedback immediately of what works and what doesn’t! Moreover, they are curious by nature, so even though I feared being the only one talking, we engaged in one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had about mitochondria and muscles.”

Would you like to be featured in the next Outreach Highlight? Share your experience with CUPS by filling out the outreach and volunteering survey.

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