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- by  Abby Weingarten
Preparing to be a professional scientist requires years of conducting hands-on research and building mental fortitude, and Jess Franks has learned both of these skills as a student at New College of Florida.

Franks will share just how much her undergraduate experience has inspired and impacted her during the 2022 New College commencement ceremony at 7 p.m. Fri. May 20 on the College Hall bayfront.

Franks’ peers, who are also graduating this year, chose her to represent the Class of 2022 at the event. The students based their decision on the moving sample speech that Franks provided to the members of the New College Student Alliance (NCSA). There were two other finalists.

“New College has prepared me not only educationally, but with my mindset of success as well—giving me the confidence to seek out that which brings me joy and find that fine line between what I’m good at and what keeps a roof over my head,” Franks said.

Franks will be this year’s only student commencement speaker. Alumna Maxeme Tuchman ’00—an award-winning, Miami-based entrepreneur and businesswoman—will give the keynote address.

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Franks is a marine biology student whose thesis is entitled An Exploration of GIS Interpolation Methods for Determining Trends in Environmental Factors Along the Elbow Ridge, West Florida Shelf. Her sponsor is Assistant Professor of Coastal and Marine Science Gerardo Toro-Farmer, Ph.D. Franks has also served as co-captain of the Swim Club, and as a teaching assistant in the general and organic chemistry labs at New College.

This fall, Franks will be attending a master’s program at Moss Landing Marine Labs through San Jose State University—joining the phycology (study of algae) lab under Michael Graham, Ph.D. Franks ultimately hopes to earn a Ph.D. in her field.

Franks feels ready for the career path ahead, knowing New College has provided her with a solid academic foundation.

“New College has prepared me for my future in a variety of ways. I’ve had several opportunities in different labs (Dr. Heffernan’s here, and Dr. Feldheim’s at the Field Museum of Chicago) to gain valuable lab skills and an understanding of what I liked and didn’t about science,” Franks said. “I’ve been exposed to the possibilities of interdisciplinary studies and relationships. I feel like I have a good understanding of how to be a professional scientist, and how to make our research more accessible to the public.”

For more information on the 2022 commencement and to see a schedule of events, visit

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.