Take Five with Princess Francois ’11

P. Francois_cropped

MESA Charter High School

Princess Francois ’11 is a Milken Educator Award-winning assistant principal in her hometown of Brooklyn. Her work focuses on coaching teachers and instructors to maximize students’ academic and socioemotional growth, as well as advocating and creating spaces for culturally responsive practices that promote anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the school setting. Francois is also an avid traveler and blogger who seeks to visit 50 countries and all 50 states before the age of 50.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed — just like the squirrels that frequently roam campus. Ironically, I accidentally kicked a squirrel, and it did a full flip and landed on its feet.

I was excited to be at the College because I had graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school. And I got to experience campus a month early, having had the opportunity to be a part of the Academic Success Program, or OPUS, as we all called it then. Being part of this program helped me feel at home by the time everyone else arrived in August.

Although I am from Brooklyn, Columbia felt like a completely different world from what I was used to — the architecture, the population, everything! I was excited and eager to live on my own in the middle of NYC, excited and eager to make friends, excited and eager to start my classes.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived on John Jay 14 and LOVED it! Being able to have my own room my first year felt like a true blessing (especially when you are an only child and you hear all the horror stories around roommates ). My floor was very social and we often would congregate in the hallway or the lounge. I remember the majority of the floor being up every Wednesday night, not for hanging-out reasons, but for pulling all-nighters to prepare for our Thursday five-hour chemistry lab class: Most of my floor was not only in this class, but also in the same section. What better way to bond than to discuss sources of error and calculating in significant digits at 2 a.m. every week?

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

Art Hum with Kellie Jones in Schermerhorn during my spring semester of junior year. When I first walked into the room, my eyes beamed when I saw that my professor was a black woman! As a young black female student, to see someone whom I could identify with teaching in the Ivy League — let alone a Western civilization Core class — was a big deal for me. Not only did she focus on the Western masterpieces, but she also infused diversity into the curriculum. She introduced us to female artists as well as underrepresented artists of color. A significant moment was when we went to MoMA and she showed us an exhibit from a Latino artist. She was nearly in tears because it was such a rare thing to find at such a significant museum.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Some of it may not have been by choice, but Butler Library and I became quite acquainted over the years. I even had a part-time job in the former Reserves section, and met one of my closest friends working there.

My hotspots were either the 210 or 310 reading rooms because they provided smaller, intimate spaces while still being part of the action. Getting a seat in one of those balcony tables in 310 was the ultimate prize! At times it felt like I lived there, pulling many (many!) all-nighters to type long history papers or study for science exams. The not-so-fun part was the “walk of shame” out of the library at 6 a.m. with the sun brightly shining, birds chirping and a group of older folks doing their morning yoga.

Being in Butler always made me feel that I was never alone in the struggle.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over again?

Hmm. Never again would I take 22.5 credits in a single semester — it was just crazy and needed approval! I would also try more unique elective classes earlier on. I was so focused on the pre-med track that I did not try out some of my most interesting classes (“Crossroads in Bioethics,” “Comparative Perspectives on Inequality” and “Race in the Making of the United States”) until my last semester. The irony is that I did not even become a doctor! My experience certainly prepared me to become a science educator, though.