As international student Francesca De Martini began her initial coursework at Mesa Community College (MCC), she remembers thinking: “I have to work here one day!”
The native of Milan, Italy says she was looking for a new life and career when she came to the United States in 2009. Already holding Bachelors and Masters degrees in biology from Italian universities, she had no idea that her time at MCC would influence her to become an educator.
In 2019, Francesca became a full-time biology professor at MCC - exactly 10 years after she came to the United States.
“I came to the U.S. at 29, and when you’re that age in Italy, no one starts a new career,” Francesca said. “It was scary to come here, but MCC made all the difference.”
One of her English professors during her first year in the U.S. was Dr. Lutfi Hussein. Knowing her desire to master English so she could eventually do a Ph.D. in biology, Dr. Hussein helped her study for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. He also was her mentor for her first year as a full-time faculty member.
Another professor who inspired Francesca was the late Dr. Stanley Kikkert, a biology professor that she got to know during her time in the Biotechnology program. He wrote a letter of recommendation for her and helped her gain the confidence she needed to apply to the Ph.D. program at Arizona State University (ASU).
The support of both Dr. Hussein and Dr. Kikkert gave Francesca the boost she needed to take her passion for biology and teaching to the next level. She has a heart for international students because she remembers the challenges she faced during her first year in the United States.
“The professors at MCC made all the difference. They were so engaged with the international students,” she said. “The sense of belonging and safe space for us to not be judged because of our accents empowered me and made a difference.”
Francesca has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Studies Milano-Bicocca (2004), a Master in Sciences and Bio-Monitoring Technologies from the University of Studies of Genova (2006), a Ph.D. in Environmental Life Sciences from Arizona State University (2016), and completed postdoctoral studies at ASU (2019).
Today, her teaching philosophy is to excite students about the content they are learning. A grant she received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in early 2020 will help develop and integrate undergraduate research into the existing Biology 181 course curriculum, which she hopes will help students become passionate about biology.
“This grant will embed research into Biology classes so that every student can be exposed to undergraduate-level research,” Francesca said. “It’s a great way to include everyone. A student might have a low grade point average (GPA), but this could help them have a moment that sparks interest.”
Her advice to international students like herself?
“As an international student, you need to learn to be yourself and be ok with that. Learn not to get offended, but on the other hand, try to find that bridge with your new neighbors.”
She also stresses the importance of maintaining an open-minded outlook.
“Sometimes people are so scared of change but humans change and develop and it is ok. Always keep your door open to new opportunities and new things that can come. There might be something you like more.”
Francesca says teaching is her dream job, and strongly believes that teachers at all levels can make a positive impact on the lives of their students.
“Good teachers make all the difference,” she said.
For more information about the Biology Program at MCC, visit mesacc.edu/programs/biological-sciences.