“A spark ignited while I was a student at Transylvania, and it hasn’t gone out. Every day my students help me keep it burning.”
When Sara Wells Francis ’00 had one of her first conferences with a professor at Northwestern University—where she was pursuing a master’s degree in music theory—he remarked, “Wow, you write really, really well.” Francis had a ready reply. “That’s my liberal arts education at work.”
As a youngster, Francis had many interests. When it came time to choose a college, she knew she wanted a “broad, holistic education” as well as small classes and individualized attention. When she visited the Transylvania campus for a music scholarship audition, she immediately sensed that the professors here cared about their students and were invested in their success.
Once enrolled, she was not disappointed. “My professors taught me to be a strong, independent thinker and to hold myself to high standards. Through their example they showed me how to be a compassionate teacher as well. Music professor Ben Hawkins taught me to teach children first and music second, and I am forever grateful for that.”
Francis also valued her study abroad opportunity while at Transylvania. She spent winter term of her junior year at Regent’s College in London, where she also took private lessons through the Royal Academy of Music. “That was one of the most valuable experiences of my college career. It gave me a great sense of perspective.”
At Northwestern, Francis was able to take classes relevant to music education, including Music Cognition and Teaching Composition. Her experiences in the classroom inspired her to pursue a career teaching general music, a field she feels is filled with some of the “most vibrant and creative people there are.”
After student teaching at Lexington’s Maxwell Elementary and completing her Orff-Schulwerk level I certification, Francis hoped to find a general music position. Instead, she heard about a job working with orchestra students in the Fayette County public schools.
“Having a strings background, I knew I could do it. I’m very happy where I am and I still find myself applying many of those general music and Orff tricks every day. I have really tried to work hard on strings pedagogy, and, should I pursue another degree, it would probably be related to that area.”
After more than a decade as a teacher, Francis still recognizes the value of her Transylvania experience.
“I know I’m a better teacher because of my liberal arts education. I have so many more ‘windows on the world’ that are advantageous when making cross-curricular connections with my students. We learn best by making connections, and I think that’s at the core of liberal arts.”