The University of Arizona

From Margin to Center: Q&A with Marla Franco

This week on March 14th, the University of Arizona will host “From Margin to Center,” a panel discussion that explores the career paths of women of color in administrative leadership.

Marla Franco, Director of Divisional Assessment and Research, will serve as one of four featured panelists. In anticipation of the event, we caught up with Marla to talk about her career path and the lessons she has learned along the way.

Marla, leading up to this discussion, I imagine you’ve been thinking a lot about your own career path.

Yes, absolutely!  It’s hard to believe that I started my career in higher education almost 18 years ago.  I certainly didn’t graduate from college thinking that I was going to have a career in higher education, but yet it’s been a wild and fulfilling opportunity for me to help advance access to higher education and degree attainment for so many students, especially for those who come from underrepresented backgrounds like myself.   

As a woman of color and first-generation college student, there were lots of unknowns and uncharted territory as I navigated my way through college. These identities resonate with me strongly and I think about them on a daily basis and apply that lens to the ways in which I think about my role in higher education.

While we’re on the topic of education, I heard that you used to teach a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) class at Cal-State Los Angeles.

I did! I taught an Intro to Engineering course to freshman students. During my time there, I worked predominantly with historically underrepresented students, many of whom were from east LA and the greater Los Angeles area. Looking back, it was my start to having a career in higher ed and it’s where I developed a sense of passion and purpose for the work that I do.

But, it’s also an experience that has helped me see my professional work come full circle.  One of the big initiatives that I’m working on now is helping the UA become federally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience because the same students that I served almost 17 years ago are the very students that I find myself continuing to advocate for now.

Marla, I know you’ll cover this more in the “From Margin to Center” panel, but what career advice would you give to other student affair professionals?

The best advice I can give is to be open to new endeavors and opportunities. Career paths are not as linear as we imagine them to be. Throughout my career there were opportunities that presented themselves that may have seemed “off course”, such as teaching Intro to Engineering and serving as the associate director of parking & transportation services, but each of these experiences brought new lessons, grand challenges, and opportunities for advancement.

I’d also say, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Personal and professional breakthroughs and novel learning opportunities require that we take leaps of faith!

“From Margin to Center: A Women of Color Leadership Panel,” will be held in the Student Union Memorial Center in the Santa Rita Room on Wednesday, March 14th from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information and to register, click here.