Meet Maya McCloud

Finding purpose through the pandemic at Franklin

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced students off campus and into their homes for a full semester, most students saw the situation as an unfair hand that life had dealt them. Maya McCloud, a senior, saw it as a learning opportunity.

McCloud has always been interested in disease research, namely the various ways that the same disease can interact and spread within different communities — specifically communities that may be traditionally underserved. When talking about her interest in disease research, she was quick to point out “how if you’re in a rich neighborhood, some diseases might be less prevalent because of access to more resources.”

Though McCloud has always been interested in disease research and the inequity in how certain diseases can affect disadvantaged communities, she didn’t know how to translate that into a career. That all changed when she got to Franklin.

A cell biology course taught by Franklin College’s Dr. Katharine Harris that she took early on in her college career showed McCloud a specific path to take upon which she could pursue her interests. Additionally, in the Principles of Biology class taught by Professor Elizabeth Stillabower, McCloud saw a documentary about the struggle that many people who live in rural communities have with gaining quick and quality access to healthcare. This documentary helped her “visualize the type of change she could make with [disease research and education].”

After the cell biology class, McCloud officially declared as a biology major. Her interest in biology has given her a passion for her classes. After one of McCloud’s biology professors, Dr. Alice Heikens, had an alumni come back and talk about their time working at an Eli Lilly drug manufacturing plant, she was inspired to apply for an internship with Eli Lilly. She got it. At the internship, McCloud developed more of an understanding of how medicinal research works in tandem with disease research.

“Oftentimes, the way medicines are created [ . . .] correlate to the rate of a disease or how much a specific condition is prevalent in a community,” McCloud said.

McCloud also said it was a bit eye-opening to see the reality firsthand that “big pharmaceuticals are also profit-incentivized, so it’s interesting to see who actually gets affected by the advent of new medicine.”

Without Dr. Heikens’ having invited the alumni to come speak during class, McCloud may never have sought the opportunity to apply for this internship.

The individual connections with professors and ability to pursue personal passions are big reasons why McCloud chose to attend Franklin — with fewer people in the classroom, learning is much easier. Also, forming individual connections with professors creates relationships that can help the professor look for specific learning and work experiences that cater directly to a student’s preferences.

Small class size was just one of the many things that sold McCloud on Franklin. She also really likes the town of Franklin itself, saying that it’s very “walkable and there are lots of things around that she can get to.” She also said that it’s pretty easy to make friends and integrate into campus.

McCloud’s involvement in campus activities speaks to this ease. She is the president of Black Student Union, has served as a Launch Mentor, and has met people with similar interests to hers through things like big campus events and her First Year Seminar class, where she and the other students analyzed Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” for a full semester.

Pursuing these individual passions in addition to her biology major is yet another thing that sold McCloud on Franklin. When she’s not busy pursuing research opportunities like collecting water samples to determine whether the water was safe to use, she can be found taking creative writing classes. As in biology, McCloud excels in this field, too. Her work has been published in the Apogee, Franklin’s student-led showcase of all kinds of writing, and has gotten to perform some of her writing and various open mic events on campus.

Now, one might think that since creative writing and biology seem like two completely different fields, there might be pressure from some professors to focus on either one or the other. However, no such pressure exists. In fact, McCloud said that she “feels lots of support academically” from all of her professors and that when her work in either creative writing or biology is recognized by her professors (as it was when she won an award for “Outstanding Upperclassman with Potential to Pursue Graduate Work” from the biology department) it’s “very encouraging to hear that.” Finally, McCloud cites Dr. Harris and Dr. Heikens from the biology department and Professor Katie Burpo from the creative writing department as professors who stand out during her time at Franklin, as well as people who “have been very supportive both academically and through personal life stuff.”

Some more personal life stuff is coming up for McCloud soon — she graduates in May. However, thanks to her time at Franklin, she’s already got a job lined up.

“I’ve accepted a full-time position at Lilly when I graduate if I want it, which I feel like the biology department would come after me if I didn’t mention in here,” McCloud said.

Hopefully, this position will include a role as an educator, allowing McCloud to travel to different communities to talk about and educate on preventative measures for various diseases (though she also strongly wants to do lab research, and doesn’t know how much correlation there is between those two things). Regardless of what the position is, though, McCloud can feel some security in the fact that her Franklin College education and connections have prepared her for whatever the next steps in her life may be — even if there’s another pandemic.

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