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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DIAMONDBACK NEWSPAPER - Branchville Volunteer Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Junior wins university's first Gates Cambridge Scholarship - The Diamondback : Campus

Posted on February 27, 2013

by Laura Blasey
Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:19 am
Updated: 12:22 am, Wed Feb 27, 2013.

A college student’s time is sacred. Some students devote it to sleep, while others devote it to class. Some devote it to sports; others party or work part-time jobs.

Time is so sacred that Krzysztof Franaszek, a junior biology and economics major, schedules his weeks carefully, making sure to get the most out of every hour in the day.

“I was very efficient,” Franaszek said. “If I was working, I was working. If I was taking leisure time, I was doing that. I was never thinking, ‘What should I be doing right now?’ I always had it planned out.”

For Franaszek, his painstaking efforts are paying off — he was recently awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a highly competitive grant that funds one year of postgraduate study at Cambridge University. He’s the first student from this university to win the award.

“I was kind of troubled by the fact that I was the first one to win,” Franaszek said. “It’s kind of disheartening, because there’s a pool of people at Maryland who could have a good chance at winning these if they actually applied for them.”

Receiving the scholarship is not all he’s been able to accomplish, though: The junior will be graduating in May, a year earlier than expected, with a 3.9 grade point average. When he’s not in class, Franaszek spends his time doing research in the lab, rowing with men’s club crew and volunteering as an EMT at the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department.

“All the activities I’m engaged in, they have a personal benefit for me, they help me grow,” Franaszek said.

And while it might be a struggle to fit everything in, he said he wouldn’t give up any of it.

“There are days that are pretty tiring; you’re going and pumping at full pistons for like 18 hours,” Franaszek said. “But I want to help people and make some sort of positive impact on society.”

That’s what made him such a competitive student for the scholarship, said National Scholarships Office Director Francis DuVinage. While the number of applications from students at this university is fairly low, DuVinage said those who apply are strong students, and Franaszek stood out.

“The students that are highly competitive are going to be people who identified their intellectual and academic interests early, identified their community service interests early and [are] pursuing them consistently,” DuVinage said. “He’s a very good student with great community service and research accomplishments.”

Franaszek first heard about the scholarship when he began applying to a graduate program at Cambridge. He had always wanted to work with Ian Brierley, a Cambridge researcher whose work revolves around infectious diseases, and was hoping to get into a research-only, yearlong master’s degree program.

The scholarship application didn’t require much extra work outside of his Cambridge application, so Franaszek decided to give it a shot.

This year, 39 students across the country received the award, a testament to their academic records as well as their work helping others, and Franaszek is one of them.

He was studying in Hornbake Library when he got the news. The first call he made was to his mother, who was equally excited.

“I think the first thing my mom said was, ‘Now we have an excuse to visit England,’” Franaszek said.

His mother, Elzbieta Franaszek, said studying at Cambridge will give him the opportunity to use his academic gifts to help others.

“He feels he needs a great education to make sure his work is meaningful,” she said. “He works very hard, but he’s also very independent and mature, even though he’s only 20.”

After telling her the news, Franaszek then picked up the phone to call his family in Poland.

Jonathan Dinman, Franaszek’s adviser and research supervisor, described the junior as a “manifestation of the American dream.”

Franaszek was born in Poland in 1992, when Eastern Europe was shedding the Iron Curtain in the wake of communism’s collapse. Both scientists, Franaszek’s parents decided to leave the country and move to the United States.

“They came to America, and they really had nothing,” Dinman said.

At Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Franaszek said he took a whopping 17 Advanced Placement classes.

When he walked into his first advisory meeting with Dinman as a freshman, Franaszek brought with him nearly two years’ worth of credits. This semester, Franaszek is only taking 13 credits because he’s run out of classes to take.

“I looked at his transcript and said, ‘Oh my God,’” Dinman said. “He’s brilliant. I did not make a mistake.”

It was clear research was one of his many callings, as Franaszek already had experience at the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Under Dinman, Franaszek studies a complex biological phenomenon called programmed ribosomal frameshifting. Cells have blueprints that allow them to make proteins, and a cell component called a ribosome reads these blueprints like a recipe in its work to produce the proteins.

Franaszek studies variations in the way ribosomes read the blueprints and the resulting proteins. Scientists look at the phenomenon as a way of studying infectious diseases and developing drugs to fight them.

Franaszek hopes to work in public health, so he studies frameshifting to indulge his inner biologist.

“He’s really smart, and he’s a really nice person. It was a real pleasure to work with him,” Dinman said.

On the weekends, Franaszek volunteers as an EMT, riding in the back of ambulances with patients. That kind of interaction with people, he said, is just as important to him as what he does in the lab.

“As a budding scientist, you don’t always get to see the benefit to other people from your efforts, but as an EMT, you have direct interaction with patients,” he said. “I think it motivates my research.”

One of his favorite activities is the training he does with crew. Franaszek first signed up for the team because he wanted to be involved in a sport, but one that wouldn’t encroach on his research and class time. Because the team practices start at 5:15 a.m., it seemed like a perfect fit.

What has kept him coming back, though, is the camaraderie of being on a team. Franaszek plans on trying out for the rowing clubs at Cambridge.

“It’s a physically demanding sport, and you go through hell, but you go through it with other people,” he said. “It’s not your ability to be this super flashy player. Everyone is an equal component, an equal cog or gear in the machine, and if you want that machine to go faster, you have to put in the effort.”



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