Featured in this week’s Between Classes is psychology professor Andrea Francis. Francis and I met in her office between classes and had the chance to talk a bit about education.
Jessica Behrman: Where did you grow up, and what school did you decide to attend? Did you know what you wanted to study before attending college?
Andrea Francis: I am from Colorado, and I grew up in Boulder. I wanted to go somewhere else, so I went to Colorado State University. I wasn’t sure how to do the college thing at the start. I had a single mom and two little sisters. So, I applied to several in-state colleges and ended up going to Colorado State because they were able to double my scholarship if I went and studied abroad. So, I choose to do that.
I did end up studying abroad by going to England for my junior year. I waffled between majors for several years. I started in biology, switched to English, even though I loved biology. But once I studied abroad, I realized I was happy with psychology. I discovered I loved psychology because it combines my love of language and biology.
JB: Did you take any time off between higher academics or before graduate school?
AF: After undergrad, I went ahead and took two years off. I found a position as a research assistant in Boulder for a violence prevention program. So, I traveled to middle schools all over the U.S. and did some program evaluation work. I always wanted to go back to grad school, but this was the perfect opportunity to get some more experience. And since I was able to travel, I was able to see a bunch of different graduate programs. I was able to meet some new people and make some connections. It was good because I realized really quickly that there were a couple programs I wouldn’t fit in that I thought I would. I chose Michigan State, one of the big reasons is probably because they gave me a lot of funding. The masters I was headed towards was in cognitive psychology, but it was never quite the right fit. So, I went ahead and found educational psychology. I love it, and it is perfect for me.
JB: So, since you were already in Michigan, how did you decide on teaching at Albion?
AF: I was very lucky because my husband ended up getting a job at MSU. Some people I already knew who worked at Albion contacted me about this position opening, so I went ahead and applied. Here I am! I started as a visiting professor. I worked for a year and then took a year and had a baby. I brought her with me that next semester and taught one class. Then, I came back and am converting to a tenure position. My kids laugh because I have been here for ten years and am going up for a tenure position, so they were a little confused.
JB: What is the key idea learned in the field of psychology?
AF: Students are always a little surprised because of the way terms are defined in education and psychology. When you bring it together, you really have to have the flexibility to take a word with different meanings and keep it in your head. It is hard, but it is valuable. So, two people can both be right within their own context.
JB: Can you tell me a little about some of the research you have done?
AF: Honestly, my research depends on what my students are doing. The research lately has been focused on helicopter parenting. We have done a survey study looking at the relationship of helicopter parenting and stress, grades and grit. The helicopter parenting reported seemed to be related to a lower perseverance in grit and higher level feelings of stress. I don’t know. It was kind of worrisome. But there are more pieces, so it definitely doesn’t mean that helicopter parenting causes anything, but there seems to be a relationship.
Also, some of my colleagues, as well as myself, have taken a look into health stigmas. For example, there is a belief that being metally ill is somehow “bad” or “not as good,” and it is absolutely not. In some cultures, that stigma is much more pronounced. So, even talking about mental health can imply and bring to someone’s mind all different things. Even when we are talking about something so basic in psychology as mental health, the term itself needs to be defined in multiple different ways depending on who you are talking to. You have to be very understanding about who you are talking to because it does trigger many emotions across different cultures.
JB: Are you involved in anything on campus or in the community?
AF: I am actually on the board for the Kids-n-Stuff in downtown Albion. My human services class, which is the first one I have taught, has a collaboration with Kids N Stuff. So, my class has the opportunity to help run and plan the spring fundraiser on March 21. My class will be the ones who are creating the games, helping with marketing and acting as a bridge between the college and community to help support a children’s museum. I’m excited. It will be good, and it’s my main project I am working on right now. The theme is a high school carnival theme, so that all the adults can come and play the games with the kids.
JB: What are a few things that you like about the Albion area?
AF: People really want to make things better. Everyone I talk to wants to support the community. And I like that. I think that people are willing to go out of their way to support the community, and that is wonderful. On Albion’s campus, I feel very supported. I feel that whatever I say is heard and taken seriously, and I like that.
JB: Do you have any advice for students?
AF: Don’t be scared to try new things. It is okay to not do it perfectly. Change is learning. I think that sometimes you find something that you love when you try something that you didn’t think would be interesting. For example, I started competing in Highland Games. So, I wear a kilt and I throw heavy things. I started this last year, and I love it. I bought a kilt, and I was in. And I bought a purple kilt for Albion. I have met an entire new community and met new friends.
So, that is what I would suggest, don’t be scared to try it. You may discover something that you had no idea that you would love.