Feature Stories 2024: Frank Scarano: A cornerstone of UMass Dartmouth’s MLS community

Professinal headshot
Scarano proudly serves the UMass Dartmouth community with his knowledge of and commitment to medical laboratory science.
Feature Stories 2024: Frank Scarano: A cornerstone of UMass Dartmouth’s MLS community
Frank Scarano: A cornerstone of UMass Dartmouth’s MLS community

Professor and chairperson of Medical Laboratory Science demonstrates unwavering faith in countless generations of Corsairs that have relied on his leadership and guidance.

Kind. Compassionate. Patient. Empathetic. These are the attributes that scholars at any education level seek in a teacher, someone they can trust will nurture their academic goals and guide them to long-term professional success with their knowledge and expertise. Teachers are widely regarded as the backbone of education for the pivotal role they play in shaping futures, fostering inspiration, and offering endless support.

When Frank Scarano was ten years old, he wanted to be this kind of teacher. He had a fierce passion for helping others succeed in and out of the classroom, instilled in him by his own academic experiences as a youngster. However, this vision of the future began to change when he entered high school and fell in love with science, specifically interactive experiences in the lab.

“I would be the student in class that would ask, ‘How does that work?’” Scarano said. “My teachers noticed my curiosity early on and encouraged me to study science in college. I ended up investigating careers in health because I’ve always wanted to help others.”

Scarano knew he wanted to pursue a career where he could help patients in an impactful way, but from behind the scenes. When it came time for this first-generation student to attend college, he found himself studying biology with a concentration in medical laboratory technology at Alfred University in New York.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a physician or a nurse because I didn’t want to have that kind of direct contact with patients,” Scarano explained. “I found my niche in the laboratory, and I loved how hands-on it was. I could read something three times in a book, but when I actually did it, it would finally sink in. It was just where I belonged.”

After Scarano completed his undergraduate career, his desire to learn was so insatiable that he enrolled in MS and PhD programs in microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at Albany Medical College, eager to expand his knowledge so he could use those advanced skills in his career. However, he discovered that his passion for teaching would return full force.

When Scarano wasn’t bent over his own microscope in the lab, he was with other graduate students at their lab stations or with medical students in medical microbiology labs as their teaching assistant (TA). As he helped others with their lab work, he realized how much he loved teaching at a higher level and wondered if he could combine his dual passions for education and medical laboratory science to pave paths of success for scholars.

“I didn’t want to teach at a high school, and I never thought about teaching at higher levels until this opportunity came along,” Scarano said. “My love for it came back. This experience as a TA made me realize I didn’t have to teach high school students, and I started wondering if this was something I could do as a career.”

Professor and student in lab
MLS student Meredyth Clifford '24 studies under the microscope with Scarano by her side.

Pivoting toward higher education

Ever the lifelong learner, Scarano completed two postdoctoral programs that gave him a variety of critical leadership and scientific skills that would later prove instrumental to his career in and out of the lab. These opportunities opened the door for him to pivot toward higher education.

The first program was a clinically-based research project based out of Albany Medical Center Hospital. Scarano was in charge of investigating a specific bacterial outbreak that was infecting patients in the neonatal intensive care unit and educated the hospital’s staff about his findings. The experience required him to learn about the bacterium’s microbiology, but also further showed him how he could merge his love for medical laboratory science and teaching together.

Scarano’s second postdoctoral fellowship was accredited by the American Academy of Microbiology and occurred at Hartford Hospital. The fellowship was specific to PhD graduates looking to become clinical microbiology laboratory directors. Scarano said, “I learned all of the ins and outs of how to run a lab and how to make excellent decisions about patient care and putting research applications to clinical settings.

“One of my responsibilities as part of this program was to train new medical residents on how to interpret and understand laboratory data,” Scarano continued. “Coincidentally, Hartford Hospital also offered a medical laboratory science program for University of Connecticut students, so I started to teach a bit in that program as well.”

All arrows were pointing Scarano toward a career in higher education, where his passions for teaching and medical laboratory science could seamlessly merge. This second postdoctoral program concluded with him obtaining a position as a clinical microbiology instructor under the partnership between Hartford Hospital and the University of Connecticut.

“I held that position for two years before a position opened up at UMass Dartmouth in the spring of 1998,” Scarano said. “I knew that this was my calling and that this was what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life. I could put my love for clinical microbiology together with my love for teaching. It all came together for me.”

Scarano and Fuller at Employee Recognition Celebration
Scarano was honored for his 25 years of service at UMass Dartmouth's Employee Recognition Celebration last year.

A 26-year career at UMass Dartmouth

Scarano became a Corsair at heart the moment he stepped foot onto Ring Road and vowed his commitment to student success. Now professor and chairperson of the MLS department, his friendly leadership style and empathetic personality make him a favorite among students across campus, who spout wonderful things about his investment in and care for their academic, professional, and personal well-beings.

“I could have gone and worked in the industry for a higher salary, but it’s not about that,” Scarano said. “It’s about doing what’s fulfilling and what you love.”

As MLS chairperson, Scarano works with the Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Kimberly Christopher, and helps oversee MLS program operations to ensure students have ample opportunities to explore what interests them the most. He also leads and collaborates with MLS faculty to make the curriculum optimal for student learning and scholarly prosperity.

“Ultimately, UMass Dartmouth is a university of access,” Scarano said. “We help students work toward a college degree that’s going to help them become medical laboratory scientists and lead them to 100% job placement and comfortable salaries.”

Beyond his administrative duties, he is an ear for students to confide in, a compassionate and kind listener who provides support and understanding during their times of need. Scarano said, “We have a philosophy in the MLS department, ‘Let’s think about what’s best for our students.’ We have to think about them when making decisions about curriculum, especially if we want to see them cross that stage at a Commencement ceremony in four years. These are students that were just like me, out of humble beginnings who just want the opportunity to improve.”

Every day, Scarano stands before the window in his office overlooking campus and knows he found his purpose in life. Every lesson he teaches and every student he inspires reaffirms the transformative impact of education and the incredible influence of leading campus figures. It’s a job that a ten-year-old Scarano would be more than proud to have.

On April 17, 2024, Scarano received the Faculty/Staff Recognition Award for his investment in and care for the academic, professional, and personal well-being of students and alumni at the 51st annual Alumni Awards. Read more about how UMass Dartmouth celebrated all that Scarano has accomplished as part of the Corsair community here.