During the State of the College Address on Jan. 27, President Peter Mercer welcomed Barbara Harmon-Francis as the new Educational Opportunity Fund, or EOF, director. Harmon-Francis joined the Ramapo staff three weeks ago and looks forward to meeting all Ramapo students.
“I’ve met so many great EOF students so far and it’s wonderful,” Harmon-Francis said. “I look forward to meeting everyone, I look forward to helping people graduate and I look forward to developing them as student leaders.”
Prior to coming to Ramapo, Harmon-Francis was at Rutgers for eight years working in the largest EOF program in the state. There, she oversaw a caseload of over 600 students, but the department saw close to 1,300 students in the program. Before that, she was at the College of New Jersey, her alma mater, where she came through as an EOF student who graduated in 1993 as a communications major.
Harmon-Francis has served two years with AmeriCorps, a national service organization. In her first year, she worked with children and families and was then chosen during her second year as an AmeriCorps leader that was sent to Washington, D.C. to work with the national nonprofit. There, she coordinated leadership events, but one of her favorite memories of the program was getting to be in the presence of four presidents at a leadership youth summit that she helped to facilitate. She explains that doing AmeriCorps opened up many doors for her.
Harmon-Francis did AmeriCorps for two years and then went to Temple University, where she was enrolled in their doctoral program. After finishing up her master’s degree, she later decided that she did not want to earn a doctorate degree at that time in her life and started working in EOF at Hudson County Community College.
“I fell into this profession, I like to say, because my goal was to earn a doctorate in communications and then just teach,” Harmon-Francis said. “I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with it the way that I did.”
However, the idea does not seem that far-fetched for Harmon-Francis.
During her undergraduate experience, Harmon-Francis was active in a lot of student organizations such as the Black Student Union, the gospel choir and a student leadership panel. She explains that being so active as a student really fed into her involvement when she went into AmeriCorps and began receiving leadership development from the organization.
“It was like this natural gravitation back, amazingly, toward higher education because when I was an EOF undergrad, I was an EOF peer mentor, an EOF tutor and an EOF summer RA,” Harmon-Francis said. “It was one of those things where when I started working for Hudson County Community College as an EOF counselor, I just was like ‘My God, I really love this — this is my career.’”
For Harmon-Francis, it has been a natural progression for her to finally be a director, having gone from an EOF counselor to a program specialist to an assistant director and now filling a director position.
Harmon-Francis said she is currently working on learning more about the Ramapo culture, pointing to her previous areas of employment and acknowledging that each time, in a new setting, she had to observe and learn before she could implement any new initiatives. Harmon-Francis joins Ramapo two years after the sudden passing of Lorne Weems, who was very familiar with the Ramapo culture as he served as the director for 18 years. He was responsible for a number of new initiatives for EOF students and alumni as well as a push for EOF students to study abroad and the creation of a monthly newsletter.
“I’m glad that I have two more years at Ramapo because then I can see what kind of impact she will have on the program. She’s starting off new and will need time to get settled and realize a vision, but I’m looking forward to seeing that vision come true and seeing what new initiatives she can bring to the office,” Berly Rivera, a sophomore, said. “I’m also looking forward to connecting with her. I know she’s from Newark and I am too, so it’s really great to have that kind of positive representation.”
“I’m just trying to get to know what students are passionate about, what they are really into here … and really just trying to find my niche as a new director to continue to make students feel like they’re home,” Harmon-Francis said. “Having been at both a Division I school and Division III, you need to access your environment and try to see what is needed to increase student involvement and passions.”
One tradition that Harmon-Francis absolutely loves and plans to continue implementing at Ramapo is a roundtable Thanksgiving or a holiday meal. She remembers that her EOF staff used to cook for the EOF students.
“It was an opportunity for all of the students and staff to come together, see each other and just have fun together — and it made EOF feel like family,” said Harmon-Francis.