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Q&A with ANY New York Executive Director, Princess François Estévez

Princess is a first-generation American, first-generation college graduate, and a native New Yorker, as well as an established and award-winning school leader. Princess graduated from Columbia University with a history major and pre-medical concentration. Her teaching career started with Teach for America where she worked as a special education and science high school teacher in her home neighborhood.

She completed her Master’s Degree at Hunter College in Adolescent Special Education and a second Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership at Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

In 2019, she won the prestigious national Milken Educator Award for her educational impact. She has a passion for traveling, helping students of color overcome barriers in STEM, and advocating for spaces for culturally responsive practices that promote anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in schools. 

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Why/how does ANY’s mission resonate with you?

ANY’s mission resonates with me so deeply because of my personal connection: I am a first-generation American of Caribbean descent as well as a first-generation professional degree graduate. I personally understand many of the struggles that our fellows face as a first-gen: attending college while also balancing working part-time, participating and leading extracurricular activities, defying stereotypes and overcoming imposter’s syndrome in order to hustle forward for future career goals. These struggles do not just stop in college, but often continue while moving up the career ladder or pursuing professional degrees. Furthermore, as a high school educator for the past 11 years, I consistently witnessed many students who graduated high school and started college, but did not complete their degree. While there are programs who help students persist, most require students to apply and join while in high school. ANY is the first program I have seen that allows students to apply for this support while in college, which is what also drew me in. My passion has always aligned with helping people from similar circumstances as me so that I can be a model of representation: as president of a minority pre-med society during college; as a high school science teacher and Assistant Principal; and now hopefully as New York’s Executive Director of ANY.

What were you like as a freshman in college? How were you thinking about your career?
When thinking about this question, I realized that it has been exactly 15 years since I started college. WOW! I was super excited and proud that I was starting my journey as an Ivy League student at Columbia University. I was an extremely hard working, ambitious, super focused pre-med student (clearly, I did not become a medical doctor!) who was enjoying living on campus for the first time and meeting lots of new people. Everything felt so new and different! However, I also had feelings of doubt and nervousness, questioning “How did I get here? Do I belong here?” I entered college feeling I had to prove to others and myself, even though I knew deep down that I more than deserved to be there.

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Soft-serve vanilla ice cream!

Do you have a favorite quote?
“Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable.” – Janelle Monae

Who is someone you admire?
As cliché as this sounds, my mother. She is the epitome of strength, resilience, and optimism.  More and more each day, I realize that I really am my mother’s daughter beyond just blood. She raised me single-handedly while working and pursuing her college degree. I witnessed firsthand her ability to persist and juggle so many responsibilities. When I was in elementary and middle school, she worked towards earning her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree. I have very vivid memories of sitting next to her in her college classes during school breaks because she did not have child care, leading me to absorb content that was not taught until high school. Seeing her walk across the graduation stage gave me a tangible example that anything is possible while displaying the importance of education. The greatest lesson that I learned from her is that there is no barrier too large to overcome when it comes to accomplishing your goals, especially getting your education. She has instilled in me the values of self-discipline, perseverance, and excellence, all of which I practice daily.

What is a piece of advice you were given that will stay with you?
“Forgive yourself each night and recommit each morning.” I first heard these words during a speech made to my Teach for America cohort during our summer training days. It has resonated with me over ten years later because it is applicable not just as a teacher, but for any moment in life when you are ready to give up because of a difficult circumstance. I have shared this advice to countless others to spread the same feelings of hope that this advice has provided to me over the years. 

What do you want to say to the ANY community?
Thank you ANY community for welcoming me with open arms! I am very humbled and honored to have the opportunity to work alongside all of you. I am energized and committed to ANY’s mission to change the trajectory of first-generation college students because it is personal for me. I look forward to learning from you and with you. As your new Executive Director, I hope to lead alongside you, to inspire and to uplift you, and to have a measurable impact. Together, we will build on the strong foundation of ANY so we as individuals and as a community can progress forward.

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