BY LEAH WILLINGHAM '17
When Frances Perkins scholar April Graham ’18 arrived at Mount Holyoke last fall, she had a lot more questions than answers.
After spending 20 years as a music journalist, being on a college campus —especially one with as many beloved and quirky traditions as Mount Holyoke — was all new.
“Coming in, I had so many basic questions,” Graham remembered. “I was like, ‘What is Pangy Day? What is J-Show? I was so confused about where I should find resources, and what I should be doing.”
While Graham and other Frances Perkins scholars — non-traditional students over the age of 25 — have access to the same orientation events and programs as traditional students, most are commuters, Graham said. Because of this, they don’t spend as much time on campus as other students might, and can feel isolated from the community and information they might need about student life.
Information on the College’s website can feel especially overwhelming and specific to traditional students, Graham said.
Through talking with peers and professors, Graham eventually got the hang of things on campus her first year, but she hoped to use her experience to help other incoming FPs when she was elected president of the Frances Perkins Scholars Association (FPSA).
The result is FranPedia, a Wiki-inspired page accessible to Frances Perkins scholars through the Mount Holyoke Google suite, created by Graham and her vice president Erica Watts ’17. The site uses photos and hyperlinks to guide its users through life at the college and tips for being successful there.
Graham said the purpose of FranPedia is not to regurgitate information already available on the Mount Holyoke website, or at orientation events, but to make that information more relatable to Frances Perkins scholars as a group.
For example, on FranPedia, Frances Perkins scholars can find information about the history of the Frances Perkins program, the group’s academic and social calendar, the constitution and student directory.
Graham has also included a breakdown of funding for prospective Frances Perkins scholars, like how many credits they need to be eligible for varying amounts for financial aid.
In addition to answering any practical questions incoming FPs might have about the school, Graham hopes FranPedia will also be a tool of empowerment for FPs. The website includes a page to list the academic honors and fellowship FPs have earned through the years, complied by Frances Perkins director Carolyn Dietel.
“As FPs, some of us suffer from imposter syndrome, like, ‘I’m not smart enough to be here, I don’t belong here.’ This Wiki site just reinforces that FPs absolutely do belong here, and they do deserve to be here,” Graham said.
The site also includes data on the current Frances Perkins scholars. For example, 31 out of the 97 current Frances Perkins scholars are parents.
““It allows students to feel connected,” Graham said. “Like, wow, ‘there’s someone else here who has kids, or is married.’ I’m not alone in this.”
Additionally, the site includes contact information for all Frances Perkins liaisons. The FPSA has liaisons in various campus departments, including the Career Development Center.
The CDC is an important resource for FPs hoping to apply their previous work experience to what they want to do after college.
“A lot of FPs have had really full lives before they come to Mount Holyoke,” said Graham. “So it’s important to figure out how to incorporate that into the work they do at Mount Holyoke, and also the work they are going to do after.”
Frances Perkins program Director Carolyn Dietel said she was “thrilled” that Graham and Watts have been able to invent and create a resource to make the college transition process smoother for Frances Perkins scholars.
“I am always seeking new and better ways to share information and communicate with our very diverse group of Frances Perkins Scholars,” Dietel said. “I am delighted and grateful that Apriland Erica had the vision and expertise to create an innovative and dynamic tool that students can access at any time for real time information about the College and the Program.”
Graham said she recognizes that FranPedia is a work in progress.
She’s been updating it weekly, and also created a new email account for FPs, so they can send tips they want to see on the site.
“I feel like this is my love letter to this community,” Graham said. “Because I think Frances Perkins scholars are amazing and I want them to have every available resource we can provide for them.”