Mariajose Franco: Recipient of MCB Department and College of Science Outstanding Senior Award

Mariajose Franco, MCB and College of Science 2019 Outstanding Senior, has always been passionate about biology. She took AP Bio in high school which gave her an idea of what biology classes in college would be like. She knew she wanted to attend the University of Arizona and major in science, she just needed to decide which major most aligned with her passion. She looked at all majors in the College of Science before deciding. One thing Franco knew for sure was she wanted to study cancer. “There are different perspectives to cancer but I knew MCB would focus on cells and studying therapies for cancer which is where I want to focus.”

Mariajose Franco. UA MCB Outstanding SeniorFranco’s interest in studying cancer and desire to find therapies for cancer is personal. Franco was born in the United States, and grew up in Mexicali, Mexico. When she was 14 years old, Mariajose and her sister were given the option to go back to the U.S. for high school. They moved to Phoenix, AZ and lived with an aunt while they attended high school. It was during high school that Mariajose’s sister was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of leukemia and passed away from the disease. This was devastating to Mariajose, who lost her sister, her cheerleader and a large part of her support system.

Despite the devastating loss of her sister, being a first generation college students and having to secure funding for her college education on her own, Mariajose persevered and enrolled at the UA. She knew medicine was an option for a career, but it wasn’t until Mariajose immersed herself into her studies and leaned about research, that she learned there were options for careers in science other than becoming an M.D. “I didn’t know that research was a career!” Mariajose laughed.

Mariajose Franco UA MCB Outstanding Senior



Mariajose was accepted into the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program when she entered her junior year. This program is a research, mentoring, financial and academic opportunity for underrepresented undergraduate students. The program helps prepare students for graduate education and a future research career. “Ms. Franco has always come across to me as a very warm, kind, generous-spirited individual--indeed, distinctly and noticeably so. I think people who meet her quickly come to see her as a person with heart” Mathew Cordes, Ph.D. and Director of MARC Program wrote.  It is through the MARC Program that Mariajose began working in Dr. Justina McEvoy’s lab; Mariajose’s research focus is on understanding the non-genetic mechanisms that promote rhabdomyosarcoma tumorigenesis. Dr. McEvoy’s lab focuses on a pediatric cancer of the developing skeletal muscle called rhabdomyosarcoma. Mariajose’s research in this lab includes exploring the role of long non-coding RNAs rhabdomyosarcoma tumorigenesis with the end goal of developing better treatment options for this disease. “Mariajose is incredibly intelligent, passionate about medicine and research, and extremely thoughtful in experimental design and techniques.” Justina McEvoy told me. “I think she is an amazing undergraduate researcher who is unstoppable and I feel very fortunate that she joined my lab.” 

Having worked in a research lab for two years now and enjoying that work, Mariajose is still committed to becoming an M.D., and is now adding Ph.D. to her future schoolingplans.   “I want to become a scientist because I believe research is a unique profession. Researchers find answers that fill gaps in knowledge through their work, whereas other professionals use those findings to apply them in their work. Biomedical research is complex and requires years of dedication and perseverance, but it is gratifying to have the possibility of making a significant discovery to improve human health.” Mariajose wrote in her personal statement as part of her application for the Outstanding Senior Award.


Mariajose Franco. UA MCB Outstanding SeniorMariajose has received many awards and accomplished much during her four years at UA. She was selected as the MCB Outstanding Senior and the College of Science Outstanding Senior, both highly competitive awards. She was a speaker on KXCI’s Thesis Thursday, is an Honors College Student, and is on the Dean’s List. She contributes many volunteer hours – a summer at St. Jude’s working in pediatric oncology, Child Life Volunteer at Banner University Medical center. While she is proud of her achievements, Mariajose doesn’t plan on stopping here. She has been accepted into a Postbac program at the National Institute of Health at the National Cancer Institute and heads to Maryland after graduation to start this program. She will be focused on stem cells as model organisms for cancer research. Upon complete of her postbac program Mariajose plans to pursue an MD-PhD. 

While we will miss Mariajose’s brilliant smile and positive outlook, we wish her all the best as she heads to her next assignment!



Michele Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Apr 2, 2019