Persistence paid off for this cancer researcher; ultimately, he hopes to serve as liaison between science, business, and law.

In 2012, Reinaldo Franqui Machin left his family and friends in Puerto Rico to come to the University of Iowa to study and conduct cancer research, but his first few months on campus weren’t easy.

“When I came here to start my PhD, I felt insanely lost,” Franqui says. “I had a lot of feelings of loneliness. That was affecting everything I was involved in, and I almost dropped out of my graduate program. Trying to help other students overcome hurdles became very important to me, because I cleared those hurdles.”

Reinaldo Franqui Machin

Hometown: Juncos, Puerto Rico

Area of study: Cancer research

Graduation: May 2018

Plans after graduation: Begin law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He will be part of the university’s Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice. Ultimately, he hopes to serve as liaison between science, business, and law

Activities and honors:

  • Participated in the Graduate College’s STEM Leadership Development Program
  • Selected as a fellow of the Yale Ciencia Academy for Career Development
  • Attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting
  • Presented with the Center for Diversity and Enrichment’s Student Leadership Award 
  • The UI Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development featured Franqui among its 64 students in this year’s Dare to Discover banner series

Franqui’s dynamic personality and willingness to help others made him a campus leader among graduate students. He organized events that fostered inclusion and diversity, created writing and reading groups to support fellow students, and served as co-president of the Association of Multicultural Scientists and the Latina/o Graduate Student Association.

Franqui successfully defended his dissertation, “Destabilizing NEK2 Overcomes Resistance to Proteasome Inhibition in Multiple Myeloma” in late March. He earned a PhD in molecular and cellular biology and will participate in the Graduate College’s Doctoral Commencement Ceremony May 11 at Hancher Auditorium.

Campus leader

Early in his UI career, Franqui called his father, Reinaldo Franqui Contreras, and told him he might give up on his pursuit of a PhD in favor of master’s degree.

“I told him to do his best and if he fails nothing bad was going to happen, because he would still be my son,” Contreras says. “I told him to be confident in himself and that his health is always first.” 

Franqui took his father’s words to heart.

In 2017, Reinaldo participated in the inaugural year of the Graduate College’s STEM Leadership Development Program, which prepares STEM doctoral students for future leadership roles. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program this year supported nine graduate students from seven doctoral programs. It was designed by Sara Larsen, associate dean at the Graduate College, and Jennifer Teitle, assistant dean at the Graduate College.

“Rey is always like a breath of fresh air,” Teitle says. “As a graduate student, you’re asked to do research all the time, which can be isolating. But Rey’s nature is to be warm, social, and gregarious. He loves to engage people in conversations about what matters to them, and loves to help others.”

In February, Franqui was selected as a fellow of the Yale Ciencia Academy for Career Development, which provides graduate students with opportunities for mentoring, networking, and skill development, and for making contributions to their communities through science outreach. As part of the award, he attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, and met former Vice President Joe Biden.

“(During the program) we talked about how your body influences your mind, how to break the ice with faculty members, and how to maintain a faculty mentorship,” Franqui says.

On May 9, Franqui was presented with the Center for Diversity and Enrichment’s Student Leadership Award for his projects across the University of Iowa campus.

Important lab member 

Franqui researches multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for future development of chemotherapeutic agents that can increase patients’ quality of life and prognosis. Fenghuang Zhan, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, faculty member in molecular medicine, and Franqui’s mentor, exhibited an unwavering belief in Franqui as a scientist, which kept Franqui from leaving the program when his projects weren’t moving forward. 

To help him succeed, Zhan had one-on-one daily discussions with Franqui about his experiments and later paired him with scientists from his and other labs so Franqui might learn new techniques that could be applied to his projects. Franqui took a leadership role in Zhan’s lab.

“Rey trains every visiting scholar that comes to my lab to do research,” Zhan says. “He makes sure every student gets adequate bench training and is always enthusiastic about getting involved in different projects, even if they’re unrelated to his thesis. His dynamic involvement has pushed our research mission forward, and his hard work has opened new projects in my lab with translational potential.”

The UI Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development featured Franqui among its 64 students in this year’s Dare to Discover banner series. The banners highlight the exciting discovery and innovation taking place at the UI.

After graduation, Franqui will begin law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He will be part of the university’s Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice. Ultimately, he hopes to serve as liaison between science, business, and law.

“I want to make science relevant to society and promote careers in research,” Franqui says. “I want to help promote the next generation of scientists.”

Reinaldo Franqui Machin in the lab

Experience spring 2018 graduates’ inspirational stories. 

Writer
John Riehl
Photography
Tim Schoon
Video
Clarity Guerra