“I’ve been able to watch in a personal way students developing, growing and moving out. When they leave, you kind of miss them, but that’s what we’re here for, to launch you guys into the world”, said Dr. Wilma Saffran. Saffran serves as an associate professor and director of the science honors program. After 32 years at Queens College, she is now retiring, leaving a large legacy behind.
Saffran had studied biochemistry as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin. She then moved onto a graduate program at Cornell University, and obtained her PhD with a dissertation in physical biochemistry. She said, “Both my parents were biochemists, they met in graduate school… they entered their careers in biochemistry together. When I was a kid, I would occasionally go to the lab and it was intriguing”.
Saffran looks back and recounts, “When I first came to Queens, I didn’t have teaching experience, as my background was in research”. Since then, Saffran has confirmed that at one point, in her recent semesters of teaching biochemistry, she was applauded by all the students in her course after finishing the last lecture of the semester.
She also talks about her memories in the workplace when she first started out. “When I first came to the department it was mostly male. I’ve enjoyed having interactions with my female colleagues. I have to say that it’s been a very collegial atmosphere in this department, people treat each other with respect”
One aspect of her career and life here at QC that she is particularly passionate about is her research. She said, “I grew up with the new revelations in molecular biology that allowed scientists to really start to not only study cells but change their genetics, so I was interested in how these processes occur”. Saffran is particularly focused on DNA repair.
Along with conducting research, Saffran served as a mentor to undergraduate students in her lab and as a mentor to students in the HMNS program. The HMNS program (honors in math and natural sciences) is a program on campus that allows undergraduate students with a science background to directly participate in research labs after completing a semester-long seminar. In fact, Saffran notes that it is a component of the legacy she is leaving behind here at Queens College. She explains, “My involvement in the program, that’s something I’ve been very proud of… for undergraduates, so many other tolls on their time may feel that research is an obligation or something that they can only put a limited amount of effort into.”. She further adds, “The program encourages students to commit to a long enough period to really make a contribution to the project that they are engaged on and that helps the professor who is their mentor but that also gives them the satisfaction of accomplishing a substantial piece of work, completing a project… It allows them to go through the experience of writing a thesis, which is a valuable achievement and a useful skill to gain.”
Saffran added that she would like to see Queens College’s identity be rebranded as not only a liberal arts college, but an institution where one may receive a well rounded STEM education.
When asked to reflect and mention a life lesson Saffran has picked up from all her time as both a student and a professor, she said, “Take advantage of any opportunities, don’t rush things. With STEM & science in general, everything builds upon a good foundation. If you want to be successful in STEM, you need to put in the time to take those basic courses to be prepared for the next level.”
The Knight News would like to thank Dr. Saffran for her service to Queens College students on behalf of the community.