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Opportunities in a land of corn

Armila Francis shares her journey to teaching

Armila Francis (‘14) started the Taylor garden in 2013 and served as the garden manager. Brian Donovan (‘14) Libby Wagner (‘14) worked on the garden with Francis to complete their environmental science internships.

Armila Francis (‘14) started the Taylor garden in 2013 and served as the garden manager. Brian Donovan (‘14) Libby Wagner (‘14) worked on the garden with Francis to complete their environmental science internships.

By Brooke McKenzie | Contributor

Each puff of breath marked a moment Armila Francis drew closer to the farmhouse. As she pedaled the 2.7 miles it took to reach Victory Acre Farms in the middle of an Indiana January, her determination and excitement grew. Once there, she walked up to the door of the farmhouse and knocked. Then she waited. She questioned if she could help the owners, if they needed volunteers or if they were even home. In this uncertainty she stood.

The door opened, and Francis spoke words that would soon become habit: “I know you don’t know me, but I’m really interested in learning more about agriculture, and if there is something I can do, I would be interested in volunteering here.” As time went on, Francis would replace the word “agriculture” with “firefighting,” “mentoring” and “teaching.” Never afraid to learn or grow roots in soil that appeared shallow, Francis decided to defy her millennial label and work hard, wait actively and serve others.

Today, at the age of 26, Francis faces a room of college students—some sleepy, some dazed and some eager. She shares her passion of environmental science while filling the unexpected role of visiting instructor at Taylor University for one year.

Although Francis earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Taylor, she never planned to teach and was once afraid of the idea. However, over the last eight years, her love of Grant County has expanded to include a newfound love for teaching that suits her desire to always learn. Her campus and community involvement surpassed that of many over-committed Taylor students and began with a hesitant foundation.

“At first I was like. . .‘I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. Should I invest in this if I know I’m going to leave?’. . .I realized. . .it’s a two-way street. I’ve wanted to give back to my community, but I also know how much I have to learn from . . . the crazy seventh graders at 1 a.m. at the Red Barn or the people in Circles (of Grant County), . . . or the firefighters who’ve been here for four decades.”

Armila Francis sold produce from from the campus garden at the Upland Market in summer and fall of 2013 (photo provided by Armila Francis).

Armila Francis sold produce from from the campus garden at the Upland Market in summer and fall of 2013 (photo provided by Armila Francis).

Michael Guebert, earth & environmental science department chair, believes Francis is destined to be a great professor: “She conveys (her) passion and strong conviction to other people by demonstration, and she does it in a subtle and humble way.”

Students can attest to her passion as they recalled her lesson on compost. While handling dirty napkins and paper plates without any qualms, Francis relayed the story of how, as a student, she once hijacked the trash from Homecoming weekend to sort out biodegradable objects for the compost pile. Her students see her living out what she teaches when she rides her bike to and from work, participates in her classes’ stewardship assignments and invites students to community events like free karate lessons or trivia nights at a local coffee shop.

Francis’s year-long Taylor contract will expire at the end of the semester, but unsurprisingly, she is already prepared for the next step. In the fall she will head to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. There she will work in the plant pathology lab in a job that offers the promise of living long-term in an environment she hopes to flourish in.

As Francis travels to her next unknown, waiting to learn and find a new adventure, maybe there will be a sigh of relief as she looks over her shoulder at the garden she planted in the Grant County community where she found bountiful friendships, cultivated minds and vibrant experiences.

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