Student Spotlight: Francesca Roaelison

What is your occupation? What are some of your responsibilities?

As a psychology major at NOVA, my role as a math tutor is similar to helping patients face their problems, but instead of real-life problems, I help them solve mathematical ones. I guide them through a process so that they end up finding the solution themselves.

Helping people with my best abilities has forged my character. When midterms and finals approach, students become frustrated and angry to the point of being aggressive, and at first, it was a challenge for me to help them calm down. Further, explaining a new concept to students is difficult; it requires patience and devotion. However, I didn’t give up. At each step of the process, I was compassionate, encouraging, and comforting. I am now more able to adjust my approach and can better anticipate their needs because I understand them better.

Also, for the past two years, my job as a Sexual Assault Peer Educator at the college has allowed me to participate in an educational effort impacting more than one thousand students. Through classroom visits, workshops and interactive experiences, I educated students on sexual assault and consent, alcohol and substance abuse, healthy relationships, and domestic violence. They are now more comfortable in detecting red flags in relationships, reporting incidents, and reaching out to community resources.

What inspired you to choose this field?
My field of study was determined by several factors, including my childhood experiences and my naturally curious, observant, and empathetic nature. What first introduced me to the science of psychology was the book What is Happening In Me by Isabelle Filliozat. I became fascinated with learning about emotions and strategies to help people feel better about themselves and others. Reading about human psychology and physiology became my passion. By the time I was enrolled in college, I found myself applying information from my readings toward understanding and
supporting my peers.

Do you hold any certifications? 
I have a Therapeutic Options Training Certification from Gateway Homes Inc and a Fairfax County Tier One Training Program Certification from the Domestic Violence Network (DV Network) Fairfax County. I think that being an active and curious person in your field or in any other one that you are passionate about, is always an advantage for your own personal and professional experiences.

How have your credentials helped you in your career?
While pursuing my degree, I also became engaged in leadership activities; leadership is a subfield of psychology. The first leadership event I attended was the “Elect Her” training program, co-sponsored by AAUW and Running Start. A 19-year-old college student shared her story about overcoming her fears to become the youngest elected official in the history of Washington, D.C. Her story was empowering. I was selected to participate in the AAUW National Conference of Women Student Leaders and also attended the “Young Women Run” Conference, receiving scholarships to cover the conference fees. I was trained to be a leader for the next generation.

Sitting among like-minded college student leaders and listening to speakers such as Nancy and Christine Pelosi and Rosie Rios ignited a fire in me. Previously, I had been afraid to share my own story. Now, I feel empowered to participate in creating movements to change the world. I am actually part of the CGIU (Clinton Global Initiative University) which is a growing community of young leaders who not only discuss global challenges but also take concrete steps toward solving them. I had the opportunity to present my project to the Clinton Foundation last October, called “Ending Domestic Violence in Antananarivo, Madagascar,” (directly linked with my major as well as my current position on campus) with the goal of addressing the challenge of domestic violence in my local community.

What academic pathway did you take to get to your current position?
Prior to my arrival in the U.S, my choice of major was based on my need to understand myself as a developing human being. As I furthered my studies in psychology and gained leadership experience, I also gained deeper confidence in my own strengths, an understanding of my motivations, and a realization of my purpose in life. I want to be a servant leader and be a part of something greater than me. Empowering people by making them feel confident about their skills makes me stronger. I feel driven to help people reach their potential in terms of well being and personal development. I feel like my passion drove me to my current position.

What advice do you have for those interested in entering your field?
I’m not only passionate about psychology because it helps me understand my relationships, their impact, and my reactions in order to cope with it all, but psychology is such a broad field. As long as it involves people, psychology is going to back it up. Choose your major based on what you are passionate about in life. The things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them!

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
In five years, I can envision my dream to start my own organization, back in my country Madagascar, committed to ending domestic violence. I want to apply the knowledge in psychology and experience that I have gained both as a victim of abuse and as an educator. I want to educate others on the different forms of domestic violence. I will stand up against violence and will not tolerate the rights of others to be violated or jeopardized.