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At 16, a Clark College graduate

Great-granddaughter of former dean has long been ‘ahead of the ballgame’

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: July 17, 2016, 6:01am
5 Photos
Danielle Francom, 16,  plans to become a neurosurgeon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)
Danielle Francom, 16, plans to become a neurosurgeon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Danielle Francom doesn’t remember her great-grandfather.

She has no memory of Christmas 1999 or the family photo that captured the newborn Danielle sleeping in the old man’s arms. In hindsight, the connection spanning four generations is significant.

Danielle was only 18 months old when her great-grandfather died.

“He held me when I was a baby, but I didn’t ever get to know him,” she said.

Lewis D. Cannell was the dean of Clark College for 35 years, from the school’s infancy during the Great Depression in 1935 until his retirement in 1970. He’s been described as a driving force behind the Junior College Act of 1941, in which the state Legislature first provided funding for junior colleges.

Last week, Danielle, now 16, stood in front of Clark College’s Cannell Library, named in honor of her great-grandfather. She has made her own mark on the campus where he first set foot 81 years ago. Danielle is one of the youngest graduates in the school’s history. When she earns her associate degree next month, she’ll graduate with honors. Last month, she graduated with honors from Heritage.

During the same week in August that she’s taking two science finals at Clark College, she’ll start at Washington State University Vancouver as a junior.

No doubt, Danielle can handle the pressure.

“Education and good grades have always been an expectation,” she said about being raised by her mother, Stephanie Sandifer, who holds an MBA and a master’s of information systems. “She’s been absolutely supportive. My mom is the reason I do what I do. She pushes me to do my best all the time.”

Starting early

Danielle started kindergarten at age 4 — a year early — in Hawaii. When her family moved to the small town of White Salmon, Danielle was “ahead of the ballgame,” according to her mom. Beginning in sixth grade, Danielle took classes at the high school.

The family moved to Vancouver. Danielle, 13, attended her freshman year at Heritage High School — taking mostly senior-level classes.

By the end of her freshman year, Danielle had earned enough credits to skip her sophomore year. The next logical step seemed to be the Running Start program at Clark College. Although she was considered a high school junior, she was only 14. She was two years younger than the typical Running Start student.

Running Start allows qualified high school juniors and seniors to enroll in community college. They pay no tuition, but pay for books and fees.

When Danielle took the Compass college placement test at Clark, she placed in calculus I and was accepted into early admission for Running Start.

Until Danielle started Clark College, she didn’t have homework, said her mom.

“She’s one of those kids who really doesn’t have to put as much effort in things,” she said. “In high school, she got everything done in class.”

Danielle says she’s spent a lot of time on school work at Clark.

“The annoying thing is, it’s not even hard,” Danielle said. “There’s just a lot of work.”

Despite having to do homework for the first time, Danielle’s honors include Phi Theta Kappa, Presidential Academic Award, and President’s List.

Aspiring neurosurgeon

She’s aspired to be a doctor since she was 3 and frequently visited her ill aunt in the hospital. Her mom said Danielle seemed fascinated by the doctors and started calling herself “Doctor DD.”

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Danielle remembers it this way: “First, I wanted to be a veterinarian, which led me to doctor, which led to surgeon, which led to neurosurgeon, which could lead to a really good career in research. I love fixing things and solving puzzles.”

Growing up, she was influenced by watching the TV medical drama “House” and watching the character “really nail it. Trying to figure out this puzzle.”

By age 18, she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology at WSU Vancouver in two years. From there, her plan is medical school to earn her M.D. in neurosurgery.

“The dream is Harvard or Stanford,” Danielle said. “In six years, I’ll be an intern at a hospital.”

After medical school, she’ll complete both an internship and a residency. Then her plan includes a fellowship and being department head.

Next summer, Danielle will be working in Robert Malinow’s brain research lab, the Center for Neural Circuits and Behavior, affiliated with the University of California San Diego.

For now, she hangs out at home with her mom and her two sisters, Kiki Sandifer, 13 and Lindsay Sandifer, 11, who are in middle school.

She’s also reconnected with a couple of high school friends and is doing what hordes of other teens are doing in Clark County — and around the globe.

“It’s summer — and ‘Pokemon Go,’ ” she said with enthusiasm.