Onward & Upward

Former UB student Nellie Francis goes global

As a sophomore at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., Nellie Francis was already ambitious. She knew where she wanted to go—a good college or university, she just didn’t know how to get there. A friend told her about the Upward Bound program at Dakota County Technical College and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I was looking for help with chemistry and biology,” Nellie said. “I was originally thinking about going into the sciences, and the Upward Bound tutors really helped.”

As it happened, Nellie changed her career aspirations as her life unfolded. As a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Nellie is graduating in May 2010 with plans to eventually study abroad in France. She’s double majoring in international business and marketing with a minor in business administration.

Born in Liberia, Nellie, now 20, spent her first eight years in Monrovia, the capital of that West African nation. Well-traveled, she’s also lived in Atlanta and on Long Island. She looks to her parents as the main reason for her academic success, but she also credits Upward Bound with giving her inspiration and pointing her in the right direction.

Mav Steppers (Nellie Francis third from right)

Mav Steppers (Nellie Francis third from right)

“My Upward Bound experience at DCTC was a lot of fun,” she said. “My UB advisors really helped me get focused. They are highly motivated people and believe in what they are doing. They pass on that motivation and give you hope.”

Dora Schumacher, the director of TRiO at DCTC, explained that the Upward Boundprogram is administered under the federal TRiO umbrella, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. A motivational program based on academics, Upward Bound assists high school students with graduation requirements while preparing them to enroll and eventually graduate from college.

“Our students have college potential, but are often unaware of the academic and career options beyond high school,” Schumacher said. “At present, we serve fifty students in grades nine through twelve from Henry Sibley and South St. Paul high schools.”

Dora Schumacher

Dora Schumacher

Schumacher pointed out that Upward Bound at DCTC, which sponsors the program, provides a full range of resources for students, including academic tutoring, one-on-one mentoring, a six-week summer session at the college, field trips, many opportunities to meet new friends, and much more.

Nellie took full advantage of her time in Upward Bound and even discovered her future alma mater during a field trip to the MSU campus. She was a little homesick when she first started at MSU, but with the help of Melody Geiger, her favorite UB advisor, she connected with MSU Student Support Services, another TRiO program, and transitioned easily to university life.

Margaret Hesser, the director of SSS at MSU, remembers introducing Nellie to a number of new people as a way to help her feel less isolated. “Student Support Services is here to assist qualifying students to adapt to life at MSU both academically and socially,” Hesser said. “Nellie just took off once she was familiar with our campus.”

Mav Steppers (Nellie Francis far left)

Mav Steppers (Nellie Francis far left)

Along with her studies, Nellie is passionate about dance, especially step. She founded Mav Steppers, a step team on campus. She is in the process of launching her own modeling agency and also works as a stylist for Bebe, a high-end women’s clothing store. Last summer, she had the opportunity to select the dress and shoes Shawn Johnson, the Olympic gold-medal gymnast, wore for her appearance on the Teen Choice Awards.

After graduating from MSU, Nellie plans to work for two years, which is a requirement for pursuing her master’s degree in France. After that, she has her sights set on working for an immense multinational as a marketing executive with a six-figure income.

“My ultimate goal is to open my own business and be my own boss,” she said. “I also want to travel the world—France first and then everywhere else.”

For more information about Upward Bound and Student Support Services at DCTC, please contact any of the following TRiO staff: