By Wendy Sarubbi | July 23, 2012 4:30 pm

University of Central Florida graduate Martin Sterlicchi likes to solve problems – whether it’s in a lab or a village in Togo, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer sharing his love of science with the help of his former professor, Dr. Antonis Zervos of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.

In June, Martin and other Peace Corps members helped organize Camp ScientiFILLE (French for science and girls), a national camp for teachers and female students to promote an interest in science. About 30 students, 10 science teachers and 10 Peace Corps volunteers spent a week participating in science experiments, learning new teaching methods and discussing challenges of getting girls interested in science.

The camp was held in the village of Pagala, near the center of Togo, which is slightly smaller than West Virginia and is wedged between the countries of Benin and Ghana. Martin said he decided to help organize the 2012 session after teaching microscopy and microbiology during the 2011 camp.

“I saw the impact the camp had on the girls. It boosted their self-esteem and exposed them to science in a hands-on manner they normally couldn’t get back in their villages,” said Martin, who graduated from UCF in 2010 with a bachelor’s of science degree in molecular biology and microbiology.

As Martin raised funds and developed sessions for the camp, Dr. Zervos contributed a treasure trove of lab equipment —  petri dishes, test tubes, beakers, flasks, pH papers and pipettes.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Dr. Zervos, professor of molecular biology and Martin’s mentor at UCF. “He is a good-will ambassador.”

The camp provided opportunities to girls they might not ordinarily experience, Martin said, because in some parts of Togo women are encouraged to stay home and not go to school. For example, a panel of professional women, from lab researchers to agronomic forestry engineers, shared experiences with the girls. He said the story of one student who was transformed by the meeting stood out.

“She told me she always wanted to be a pharmacist, but had no idea if it was possible just because she was a girl from a small village that didn’t even have a health clinic,” Martin said. “Now she has set a goal to go to a university, study chemistry and become a pharmacist.”

Martin, whose hometown is Clearwater, had considered medical school but decided to join the Peace Corps after trips to Ecuador and Haiti with the UCF student group International Medical Outreach.

“I realized the education and opportunities I had at UCF weren’t available to everyone, and while on those trips I saw how just helping out a little bit had such a big impact on people’s lives,” said Martin, whose two-year stint in Togo ends in August.

He is applying to be a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service – a job that will allow him to continue helping others through skills he honed in Dr. Zervos’ lab.

“The key to being a good scientist is problem-solving and common sense. Martin is very good at that and is using those qualities now. He is doing exactly what he did in the lab – solving problems,” Dr. Zervos said.

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