Alumni Spotlight

Norma Francisco, PhD ’99

“I’m often asked, ‘How did you go from studying dentistry to earning a PhD to running a learning franchise to ultimately becoming an academic advisor?’

“Growing up in California’s Central Valley and vowing to escape farm labor and domestic work, I chose a career in dental hygiene. After graduating from UCSF’s dental hygiene program, I took a faculty position there, never dreaming that I would later chair that program for eight years. That administrative responsibility led me to Stanford to obtain a PhD that would help strengthen the UCSF dental hygiene program.

 “In my heart of hearts, I also secretly dreamed of opening a private school. I applied to Stanford’s Graduate School of Education because of its stellar reputation. I chose the PhD program in educational psychology because I wanted to learn the secrets to successful teaching and learning. I believed that Stanford held those secrets. The GSE helped me to achieve my dreams by exposing me to a thriving environment, supportive faculty and staff, and students and programs that were pushing the envelope on defining and solving society’s problems.

“I learned about the Kumon Math and Reading system while at Stanford. After defending my dissertation in 1996, I opened a Kumon learning center in East Oakland. I gained great satisfaction equipping parents to help their students develop math, reading, and study skills while also building their self-confidence. Today, I continue to hear positive reports from former students about their resultant success. With the economic downturn in 2008, I closed the center and became an academic advisor at a private university.  

“As I reflect on my experiences at Stanford, I believe both my daughter (who was only 6 when I enrolled) and I benefited. While I grew up working in the cotton fields of Bakersfield and occasionally playing, she grew up playing and studying with children from all over the world. 

“Because of her, I resolved to absorb the benefits that Stanford offered, which also prepared me to make a positive impact on youth and adults.”

Norma Francisco earned her PhD in 1999 in educational psychology. She is a volunteer with the Echoing Green Foundation and the GSE.