In the summer of 2012, during an especially dark point in his life, Buffalo State senior Brandon Franks found solace in physics research.
As a participant in the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship Program, Franks worked alongside associate physics professor Ram Rai on an eight-week research project investigating the properties of conductors and semiconductors using wavelengths. That same summer, Franks, then 22, received a cancer diagnosis. It came as a shock, as he had no family history and no known risk factors.
Although the disease was caught early, Franks required surgery and three rounds of chemotherapy. He considered dropping out of school.
“Winning the research award was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me. During a time when I was feeling defeated, I also felt like I was accomplishing something,” he said.
“(The fellowship) allowed me to participate in a project as a physicist, not just as a student.”
This boost, coupled with the “astounding” support he received from his other professors, encouraged Franks to keep going.
Every year about 20 undergraduates are chosen as research fellows for a range of projects across disciplines. They each receive a $2,750 stipend, funded through individual donations including the annual Faculty and Staff Appeal. In 2013 Franks also received the prestigious Misri Lal & Laxmi Devi Rustgi Memorial Award and the Dewayne Beery Physics Scholarship.
This was a dream come true for Franks, who described his upbringing as “extremely poor” in the tiny working-class town of Ohio, New York.
“Sometimes we were on food stamps and couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill. My mom works as a cashier at a gas station and my dad was an electrician before he passed away in 2009,” Franks said. “My family couldn’t help with college.”
But even as a child, Franks knew he wanted to be a scientist. “I asked myself what was the hardest thing I could do and the answer was physics. I jumped right in.”
At the onset of his illness, the fellowship stipend allowed Franks to focus all his energies on the summer project without having to take an off-campus job.
“It was a rigorous schedule,” he said. “We worked almost 40 hours every week. It was really cool to incorporate schoolwork into a job for a change.”
After Franks completed his chemotherapy in November 2012, he was declared cancer-free. He expects to graduate in May and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in numerical analysis.
“Buffalo State was an anchor for me,” he said. “The classes and the research gave me something to focus on beside chemotherapy.”
To learn how you can contribute to the 2014 Faculty and Staff Appeal, contact Claire Collier at (716) 878-5206. To see a full list of funds, go to http://giving.buffalostate.edu/facultystaffappeal.