Student-Parent Solange Francis Finds Future After COVID 

September 29, 2023

As Student-Parent Month comes to a close, NOVA shares the inspiring story of Solange Francis, a returning NOVA student motivated to not only complete her education but also help others access mental health services. After seeing the devastating financial toll of COVID, Solange decided to return to NOVA to earn her degree. She is a living example of what determination looks like, and she plans to graduate with two degrees in May 2024.

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What is it like being a student-parent? 
I am the mother of three children: two girls and one boy, ages 9, 6 and 4. Being a student-parent has its challenges: balancing childcare, school and daycare closures, staying focused on my studies and having to miss class because of your children getting sick. But knowing that you have children waiting for you at home is the best motivator to push through and finish school. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 
I started at NOVA in 2012, fresh out of high school. I got pregnant at 19, and I remember walking around campus with my daughter in my belly before I had her in December 2013. I was so huge and so young. I was met with a lot of support — but also a lot of awkward stares. Still, I was determined to continue with my schooling and finish successfully. 

Many things in my personal life affected my academic performance at NOVA. As a result, my financial aid was taken away multiple times. After the last time, I was told I would have to pay out of pocket for 12 credits, earn a B or higher and then reapply for financial aid. I ultimately dropped out of school in 2015. 

Fast-forward to 2020. When we were in lockdown, I saw COVID’s severe financial impact. I saw people standing in the welfare line in droves, and I asked myself, “What kind of life will I provide my children with no degree?” 

So I returned to NOVA and took classes online, since I had a lot of time on my hands and money was being thrown at us left and right [through stimulus checks]. I paid out of pocket for my courses, got a B or higher in all my classes and got my financial aid back. 

I’ve been at NOVA ever since, earning nothing lower than a B, and I’ve made the Dean’s List twice. Now I am set to graduate in May 2024 with my associate degree in psychology and an associate degree in general studies. 

What advice would you give to a student-parent who is just starting at NOVA? 
It would be to use every resource they can to successfully finish school such as mental health support, the tutoring center, CCAMPIS, financial services and more. Also, student-parents should develop relationships with other parenting students on campus and give feedback to each other. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met. 
My experience at NOVA now is far better than when I was fresh out of high school, attending NOVA for the first time. I am more mature now, more dedicated, determined and hyper-focused on completing my journey at NOVA. 

I joined the Psychology Club and am now the club's treasurer. So I have friends from there. I also have what I am sure will become lifelong friends from a Discord conversation started for an African American literature class I took last spring semester. 

When my outstanding academic advisor, Dr. William Kemp, tells me, "Solange, I believe in you," I believe him! He was my psych professor in the spring semester. I am constantly working with him to ensure that I am on track when it comes time to apply for graduation — I don’t wish to be surprised toward the end! 

I do have moments when I feel down because the classmates I started with at NOVA when I first attended have graduated and are long gone. Still, the people I am in class with now never make me feel out of place or "older." I tell them to use me as an example of what not to do regarding slacking off or not taking school seriously. But I also tell them to use me as an example of a person determined to successfully reach the finish line, despite any obstacles that can and will be thrown in my way. 

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? 
My dream is to attend a historically black in North Carolina. I am looking into North Carolina A&T State University. Go, Aggies! 

I want to pursue a dual bachelor's and master's degree in psychology. My goal is to become a mental health counselor and open my own practice providing free mental healthcare for impoverished communities. It’s challenging for Medicaid recipients to access quality mental health services, and that really needs to change. I strive to become the very change I want to see, and I will not let anybody or anything stop me from achieving my goal. 

My children will reap the benefits of my success, and so will the communities I want to help. And when I am successful, I will always be happy to share my journey as a parenting student at NOVA with anyone! 

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