Zuleika Franco: Knowing God better through biology – APU Articles


Azusa Pacific University biology major Zuleika Franco ’23 dreams of becoming a doctor one day. She took a big step toward achieving that goal last summer when she interned at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, California’s top hospital and the nation’s second-largest hospital. Over 600 students from across the country applied for the summer program and Franco was one of 20 selected to participate. “It was pretty intense. I honestly didn’t expect to get it, but I’m so grateful that I did,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity to learn from renowned physicians and other health professionals.”

During the internship, Franco mentored Bahareh M. Schweiger, DO, MPH, pediatric endocrinologist, and Wendy L. Sacks, MD, adult endocrinologist. “Dr. Sacks specializes in thyroid cancer. I have seen a lot of thyroid ultrasounds and have learned to identify some of the main things when looking for thyroid cancer or when looking at someone who suffers from hypo or hyperthyroidism I learned so much from her and Dr. Schweiger.

Franco also participated in the Cedar-Sinai Pre-Medical Student Volunteer Program overseen by Jason S. Cohen, MD, which focused on radiation oncology where she learned from radiation therapists and worked with patients with cancer. From these two experiences, Franco formed an important takeaway. “Doctors don’t just fix the body. You also deal a lot with the mental and spiritual aspects,” she said. “You have to be careful how you say things. You are talking to a person who might be at a very low point in their life. So you have to be sensitive while making sure they are informed about what is going on in their body. Franco recalled the most memorable part of the program, witnessing the touching moment when a patient was able to ring the bell, symbolizing that he had completed his treatment. “It was amazing to hear that bell.”

Franco’s passion for medicine and science began at a young age. “I’ve always had this love for science, its complexity,” she said. After graduating from high school in South Central Los Angeles, she wanted to attend a college where she could embrace both her faith and her love for science. When she visited APU, she knew it was the right place for her. “Everyone was so friendly,” she said. “The classes here are small and all the teachers really care about us and want to help us succeed.”

Franco experienced the dedication of APU faculty during her freshman year when she had to drop out of a chemistry class. “I didn’t have a solid foundation in chemistry. I just didn’t understand what was going on in class,” she said. Franco took a 100-level chemistry course to learn the basics, then re-entered the course she had dropped out of. “My teacher, Elijah Roth, helped me a lot. He was very passionate not only about our academic learning, but also about our mental and spiritual well-being. He pushed me on a journey of self-discovery.

Franco’s studies extend beyond the classroom. She has worked in a research team with Sarah Richart, PhD, professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, for the past two years, most recently studying the effects of fungi on termites. Franco said Richart taught him independence in research. “She gives you a general idea of ​​where you’re going and wants you to explore it yourself. If you’re wrong, it’s not a mistake, it’s a learning opportunity,” Franco said. “You have to find those questions and figure out how to solve them, and then other questions arise. That’s the whole point of research, so I’m happy with how it’s helped me grow as a researcher. .

Franco also experienced growth in his faith during his time at APU. “You can see the attributes of God through creation,” she says. “I literally study creation because biology is the study of life. I feel like I’m getting to know God better through what I’m learning in my biology classes and my research.


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