Graduate nursing student Mousumi Franks was on her way to an early morning class in the basement of the University of Virginia’s Claude Moore Nursing Education Building in late October when a set of eyes – green, almond-shaped, and, at that moment, focused on a mass of microbiology notes – stopped her in her tracks.
Franks paused, backtracked, and slid down her mask, her heart starting to hammer in her chest. “She’s small and beautiful and has these eyes,” she reflected later. “I knew them right away.”
The eyes belonged to first-year nursing student Ana Aguirre, who’d last seen Franks – her seventh-grade teacher – a half-dozen years before at Lanier Middle School, a magnet charter school in Houston, when Aguirre was 13.
“I heard her voice and thought, ‘There’s no way,’” Aguirre said, of the meeting. “I looked up and remembered one of my favorite teachers’ eyes, because they were so kind. It was unbelievable to see her here.”
The two first met when Aguirre was one of about two-dozen students in Franks’ biology class. The year was 2014, and Franks was determined to teach science “the way,” she explained, “I wish it’d been taught to me.”
That meant dissecting chicken wings to see how opposable muscles work. Intricate art projects focused on bones and muscle groups. And a teacher’s persistent proximity – important for Aguirre, a high achiever who struggled with dyslexia.
“If I ever had a question, she’d run me through it, and maybe modify the work, or explain it in a different way,” Aguirre remembered. “Having dyslexia can feel isolating, because I felt behind my other peers – and being in that class I felt like I was on the same level, and not behind. I was OK. It was perfect. She made it perfect. And she is the reason I love science, and why I started falling in love with STEM.”
A first-generation Mexican American college student and competitive diver and water polo player during high school, Aguirre is one of several Posse Scholars from Houston who arrived at UVA this fall. The youngest of three children, she says her family members are her “biggest supporters.”
“Receiving the Posse Scholarship felt like you are being told that all your hard work has been seen,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding thing to be told, ‘We believe in you,’ that ‘you deserve this.’”
The Posse Foundation – which connects standout students from across the U.S. to full scholarships at highly ranked colleges and universities – earned a portion of former President Barack Obama’s 2010 Nobel Prize award, one of 10 organizations he chose to recognize. Over the last 32 years, it has supported more than 10,000 Posse Scholars with $1.6 billion in scholarships.
Franks’ life began the Middle East where she was raised, the daughter of two scientists, before coming to Virginia during high school. After a stint in pre-medicine, Franks pivoted into modern languages, earning a bachelors and master’s degree from UVA in 1991 before teaching Spanish and science at middle and high schools across the country and raising children of her own.
But even as she loved teaching and thrived in the classroom, the itch to work as a caregiver and healer remained. When she and her husband moved to Charlottesville in 2018 – the same year her father became ill and she’d taken a job teaching Spanish at Walker Upper Elementary School – she heard offhandedly about UVA’s Clinical Nurse Leader program, a two-year, full-time, fast-track-to-nursing master’s program for individuals who have at least a baccalaureate degree in another field. Intrigued, Franks Googled it, soon applied and garnered entry, and, after taking the prerequisites, enrolled in graduate school again, at age 53, just as COVID struck.
Even though “Zoom is awkward as all heck when you don’t know anyone,” Franks called the program “amazingly supportive” and the lessons and practices expansive and meaningful. Close proximity to nurse faculty, practicing clinicians-mentors and “excellent clinical experiences” have been powerful, Franks said, particularly during the pandemic.
“It’s incredibly impactful to see nurses in action,” she said. “Watching ICU nurses work with COVID patients makes you realize how very skilled they are – and how much I still have to learn.”
And while neither Franks nor Aguirre ever imagined they’d reconnect (“I follow Mrs. Franks on Instagram,” said Aguirre, “but I never paid attention to where she actually was”), the nursing coincidence feels fitting.
“Nursing is like what she and I have: something a little sacred,” said Franks, who earns a master’s in nursing next spring. “I knew her when she was just becoming a teenager; it’s a special connection. She comes from a very close family, she’s far from home, so for me, it’s nice to be able to be here for her if she needs me – advice, a ride to the airport, whatever I can do.”
For Aguirre, reconnecting with her teacher adds to the connections she’s already made UVA in the last few months: with fellow Houstonians, Posse Scholars, peers and teachers. Seeing Franks again “brought a smile to my face,” said Aguirre, who wore a Houston Astros jersey, to her former teacher’s delight. “Now we’re students here together.”