College brings new, unexpected challenges, student says

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College brings new, unexpected challenges, student says

May 03, 2017, Tim Crosby

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Lessons can come from anywhere once you’re at a university, Francesca Sanchez has learned.

Sure, challenging coursework was an expected and necessary thing for a student such as herself, majoring in microbiology with a double minor in chemistry and art. She expected to be busy and working hard, but she hadn’t anticipated how dealing with tough issues in her personal life could add a layer of difficulty.

Finally, during her sophomore year, the stress began to show. It was then the Miami native learned the value of university like SIU, which can punch like a heavyweight in terms of research, but is also small enough to care for individual students.

“I have never had an issue with classes, but during my time here I learned that what makes college difficult are not the classes themselves, but the challenges that come along with being an adult,” said Sanchez, the daughter of Sandra and Todd Bryson of Carbondale. “I saw first-hand how easy it is to fall behind. But one of my professors noticed a difference in my assignments, and asked me after class what was going on.”

The conversation that followed proved invaluable to the Sanchez, who has gone on to be a top student in the College of Science.

“I have gotten a lot of great advice during my time here at SIU, but the best advice I got was during that conversation,” she said. “I was told that even though it is normal for me to want to be there for my loved ones, it is also okay to be selfish sometimes.

“There was not much more that needed to be said, because that was all I needed to hear. I learned that I can’t be responsible for everything, and that it is okay to ask for help,” Sanchez said.

The winner of a prestigious Chancellor’s Scholarship, Sanchez said she chose to major in microbiology when she was still in high school.

Her love for the subject, along with her close proximity to SIU, led her to confer with Michael Madigan, a now-retired professor of microbiology.

“I went in to talk about what I could do with a microbiology degree, and what my career options were,” she said. “Not only did he tell me about all of my career options, but he told me about the amazing Department of Microbiology here at SIU and about the different research opportunities there are for undergraduate students like me, and how I could start doing research as a freshman.”

She started doing research her first day as freshman at SIU, Sanchez said, and as a sophomore earned an important internship at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The Opportunities in Genomic Research Program was an amazing experience, she said.

“What I loved the most was that I did not feel unprepared,” she said. “I was the youngest person in the program, but I had the most experience with research.”

Returning to Carbondale that summer, she applied for the chance to present at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, using the work she did during her internship to do so. More than 4,000 people attend the Tampa, Fla. Event, with more than 1,800 oral and poster presentations on tap. Sanchez walked away with one of the just 250 awards presented.

A scholar in the Illinois Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, Sanchez attended the state conference recently, earning third place after presenting the research she conducts in one of her professor’s laboratories.

“These have been the highlights of my time here at SIU, because I would not have been able to do any of these experiences without the mentorship I got at here,” she said.

One of the other lessons she learned about science at SIU, however, is that it’s not only about discoveries.

“It’s about the process as well, and the people that you meet along the way,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez plans to pursue a doctoral degree, become a professor and conduce research specializing in regenerative tissue and aging/cancer research. But she said she’ll never forget her time at SIU.

“I have met a lot of people in the past that have influenced me and made me who I am today,” she said.

Webmasters's note:  If Ms. Sanchez looks familiar, she was in our news feed last year.