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Spotlight on Walden // Jul 17, 2017

A Change in Perspective

Crystal Francis in front of Roadtrip Nation van
Crystal Francis

Editor’s Note: Crystal Francis is one of three doctoral students participating in Roadtrip Nation’s new 1-hour documentary—made possible by Walden University—to discover the importance of achieving the highest degree. While traveling around the U.S. in an RV for over 3 weeks, the three students met and interviewed professionals and doctoral graduates who pursued their educational dreams, overcame challenges, and went on to have successful and diverse careers.

One of the first challenges Crystal Francis, a PhD in Public Policy and Administration student, encountered on her cross-country road trip was learning how to drive a 38-foot RV she was sharing with two strangers. Her first life lesson: Never let the size of a task or mission intimidate you. After mastering driving the 15,000 lb. behemoth, Crystal was well on her way to redefining her future.

“When I first embarked on this trip, like many other doctoral students, I had tunnel vision,” says Crystal. “I knew I didn’t want to teach, so I was looking forward to seeing people and leaders who are doing things outside of the classroom changing the world and advancing positive social change. I thought I wanted to start a nonprofit organization to provide alternate sentencing options for offenders who have committed nonviolent crimes. Now, I see there are a lot of opportunities where I can use my degree to impact policy.”

It was during an interview with Senator Irene Aguilar, MD, in Denver, Colorado, that changed her perspective on how to have the most significant impact on the nation’s criminal justice system. Senator Aguilar shared that a lot of people don’t realize that the fastest way to make a significant change is to run for public office. She explained there is a need for more doctorally-educated people in legislature who know how to research and use it to help make decisions.

“Prior to meeting with Senator Aguilar, I never thought of public office as an avenue, but now I would consider it,” says Crystal. “I think it's very important, especially as a policy maker, to have people at the table who have gone through a doctoral process because we know the rigorous research required, and we know what it means to look at the data and to be able to apply that type of knowledge in law making.”

Another leader whose interview impacted Crystal was Adam Foss, JD, former assistant district attorney at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston, who specializes in reentry for juveniles after incarceration. He explained that successful reentry is often determined by their primary education since so many crimes are committed as a result of economics and the associated lack of access to quality, high-level education.

“Not only did I feel like our conversation reaffirmed my dissertation, but I also gained a new perspective on where to start tackling this criminal justice issue,” she says. “Doctoral students have the ability to address an issue like no one else can. We learn great skills such as how to conduct original research, analyze data, and solve a social change problem in the world.”

Now that the RV is parked safely back at Roadtrip Nation headquarters in California, Crystal is back in Baltimore continuing work on her dissertation. However, the end of the trip is just the beginning of her new journey. As a result of Walden’s promotion of her story, Maryland state delegate and Judiciary Committee member Angela Gibson reached out to Crystal and offered to be her mentor. “I am very much looking forward to seeing and learning how Ms. Gibson is impacting policy and how my research can potentially help shape state laws and policy coming out of the Maryland General Assembly.”

A millennial who is the first in her family to go to college and usually the youngest among her colleagues, Crystal embraces her success. “We asked every leader we interviewed how they define success and no one said anything about money. It’s about doing something you’re passionate about and can wake up every day and be happy doing.”

—Jen Raider