Biology grad builds community with STEM

Science, Co-op

- Vimala Jeevanandam

Biology graduate Yamila Franco.
Yamila Franco, biology BSc graduate. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

In her past four and a half years, biology undergraduate student Yamila Franco has developed an impressive list of accomplishments—achieving fluency in French, completing four co-op terms and an Honours project, learning how to code, blogging for MyUVic Life, pursuing her passion in photography and becoming a board member with the BC Chapter of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research.

But Franco also makes sure to Skype with both of her grandmothers in the Dominican Republic every day. “Community is why I am here,” she says. “I achieved a lot, but it’s because I try to be very rooted in my values, and take care of my spirituality, my body and my mental health.”

It’s Franco’s belief in the importance of community that unites many of her interests, from welcoming new students with International Student Services to conducting research in the field of entomology—the study of insects.

Franco says her UVic co-op as a biological pest control assistant researcher in Switzerland with the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), “allowed me to understand the research process, improve my French and build my resume. But I’m most interested in CABI’s programs that help make research about alternatives to chemical pest control available to farming communities globally.”

Back in Victoria, this led Franco to complete an honours project in entomology, while also sharing her passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through Science Venture, a UVic non-profit which offers hands-on science learning opportunities for youth from kindergarten to grade 12.

Through one of her co-ops with Science Venture, Franco delivered in-school workshops and camps to communities across Vancouver Island, basing her work on relationship building and reciprocal learning.

“An important factor in supporting youth in their STEM journey is creating a safe place for exploration and discovery—building a community of learning,” says Franco. “These are values that I bring with my cultural background.”  

Unlike a more traditional approach to teaching math and science that focuses on content and memorization, Franco starts activities by asking youth what they want to learn—assembling a curriculum based on that feedback. “We give them a choice about how they want to approach learning. Once I took that approach, it was easier to make connections, and it was amazing to empower students and see how they develop their passions and skills with confidence.”

Now that Franco is graduating, she’s continuing to find ways to enhance STEM education with underserved groups. She’s now sharing her enthusiasm for coding and computational thinking through a new program teaching girls-only after-school program called Fri-yay!, bringing together her passions for computational thinking, art and coding.

“In the long-term, I hope to work with teachers to build the technological resources they need to make their classrooms more student-centred and allow for more personalized approaches,” she says.

Franco’s tuition was paid through a Council of International Schools scholarship for undergraduate studies.


In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, alumni, biology, international, community, Science Venture

People: Yamila Franco

Publication: The Ring

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