Maria Mercedes Franco, Associate Professor, Mathematics and Computer Science

Published: April 01, 2022

Dr. Franco has been a highly accomplished educator for more than a decade, teaching at institutions located in Colombia, Puerto Rico, and in the U.S.  

“I am interested in initiatives that seek to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM, improve public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics, and ensure equal access to higher education.”   

Franco, born and raised in Cali, the Southwest portion of Colombia, knows from firsthand experience that you cannot put a price on education. 

“I come from a low-income, single parent family. My mother’s education ended in middle school because she had to work to help support her family. She followed in the footsteps of her mother who didn’t have access to school beyond the second grade.” 

“At my school there were no adequate resources for supplies or after-school programs. If we wanted to organize a fundraiser or other events, we had to plan them ourselves. I couldn’t receive individual attention for my long-term goals.” 

By the time Franco reached high school it became clear that because of financial struggles at home college was not an option. Her mother had a job as a secretary. A colleague, who knew she had limited financial means to send her children to college, said that Franco—and her twin brothers—should not aspire only to graduate from high school. 

“His words had an impact on my mom and the next day, she told us that we were going to college and make the most of ourselves.” 

“I had no idea what to study in college,” said Franco, who, like her brothers, attended Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. 

Luckily, her aunt, who worked as a secretary at Universidad del Valle, gave Franco a catalogue of courses. “I read the entire catalogue and saw math as a major and math professor underneath. I had always loved math and decided to enter the educational field.” 

To please her mother, who was skeptical about her choice, Franco considered engineering and medicine, but she knew those careers would not fulfil her. She also considered physics, chemistry, social work, and psychology but realized those subjects would not keep her engaged. “I did not have the mindset to pursue the sciences, or the special fortitude needed to treat people with mental health issues. I wanted a vocation for service in the classroom and with the subject that I loved most: mathematics.” 

“I remember talking with an older relative who tried to convince me to study engineering, instead of a math major. He had respect for me intellectually, but he saw no future in a math major. I will never forget his words: ‘you will never finish college.’” 

Franco received her bachelor's in science in Mathematics from Universidad del Valle de Colombia. One of her mentors there encouraged her to pursue graduate studies in the mathematical sciences and to consider doing so at a university in the U.S. Soon after arriving in the U.S. in the mid 1990’s she attended Cornell University where she received both her master’s degree (2000) and Doctor of Philosophy (2005) in Applied Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. In 2003, Franco was named a visiting professor at Cornell where she taught undergraduate mathematics courses for Arts & Science majors.  

Among her many achievements, Franco is co-PI and co-Director of the NSF-REU program MSRI-UP, recognized as a 2021 AMS Mathematics Programs that Make a Difference Award. The program addresses issues of underrepresentation in the mathematical sciences. She recently developed and co-facilitated the CCNYPA Community of Practice “Beyond the Rhetoric: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lived Out on Campus.”  

As department chair (2017-2020), she worked on eliminating non-credit bearing math courses, making Queensborough the first CUNY institution to meet this system-wide equity goal. As a High-Impact Practice practitioner, she is trained on “Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Teaching for Justice and Peace” by Herstory Writers Workshop and the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University. 

“All of my activities and accomplishments are reflected in my diverse students, who share their life stories with me and the significance to them of having an Afro-Latina like myself as a professor, mentor or presenter. They are always my inspiration.”  



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