Jessica Franco, a
first-generation college student from Harrison, N.Y., has been awarded the coveted
2014 Archbishop Oscar A. Romero Scholarship from Boston College. Franco is a
junior at Boston College majoring in economics and theology and minoring in
She is a 2011 graduate of Harrison High School and the daughter of Martha Mejia of Harrison.
The Archbishop Oscar A. Romero Scholarship is awarded annually to a Boston College junior who has demonstrated superior academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, community service and involvement with the Hispanic/Latino community and Hispanic/Latino issues both on and off campus. The student must demonstrate an understanding of, and a commitment to, the values and ideals inherent in the life of Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, a social justice advocate who was killed in 1980. Franco was honored with the award at a Mar. 29 campus ceremony attended by her mother and several relatives.
Last summer, Franco conducted research in Guatemala for the Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice’s Migration and Human Rights Project. Under the guidance of Boston College Professor Brinton Lykes, she studied the impact of parental absence due to immigration on the family members left behind: the grandmothers now raising their grandchildren and the children growing up with absent parents. The project included offering workshops on community psychology, stress management for grandparents, and art therapy for children.
She also began a research project on the transnational nature of remittances and debt, interviewing five families in Guatemala with a family member working in the US. Franco plans to follow this family connection by interviewing the migrant workers in the US, with the goal of developing the research for her senior thesis. Her work with the Migration and Human Rights Project also includes providing informational workshops for immigrants in Boston and Providence, R.I.
Last fall, Franco completed a study-abroad program in Ecuador, where she had an internship with an NGO working for immigration rights with marginalized populations along the northern border of Ecuador.
At BC, Franco is involved with Learning to Serve, a program that pairs freshmen with upperclassman mentors to ease the adjustment to college and provide an introduction to social justice issues and opportunities for volunteer service in the Boston area. As a homesick freshman, Franco found the mentoring provided through Learning to Serve invaluable.
“I had a great mentor when I was a freshman and I knew I wanted to do the same for someone else,” said Franco, who for the last two years has served as a mentor to freshmen and led a group for weekly volunteer service at Epiphany School and Project Bread.
In a recent interview, Franco recalled hearing at her freshman orientation about all the opportunities for students to do research with professors and study abroad. “It all sounded so perfect, but I never saw myself doing those things. But when I got here my whole life turned around,” she said.
“My mom has always emphasized the importance of education and religion, but I did not know about the Jesuits until I came to Boston College. I’m so thankful for the Jesuit mission and the Jesuits. If I wasn’t here [at BC], I wouldn’t be doing these things.”
Franco praised BC’s Theology Department faculty, especially one influential professor. “Professor [Stephen] Pope is amazing. He is the one who introduced me to Oscar Romero. Due to his class, I had a personal transformation, a gradual awakening to the realities in the world and the moral responsibility to addressing those issues,” she said. “I feel I have a calling to be in solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed, particularly in Latin America.”
She is especially grateful to her mother who immigrated to the United States from Colombia and has worked tirelessly to enable her daughter to go to college.
“My mom came here 35 years ago and she has not rested one day since,” said Franco. “She came here to obtain the American dream. She’s the strongest person I know. I’m super grateful to her.”
Franco hopes to go abroad after graduation either via a Fulbright award, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or the Peace Corps. She ultimately wants to purse graduate studies. Her dream is to work for the United Nations.
Founded in 1863, Boston College is a Jesuit, Catholic university with a coeducational enrollment of some 14,600 undergraduate and graduate students.