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Bringing a Global Perspective to Campus

Bringing a Global Perspective to Campus

Given your interests, values, and goals, explain why Oberlin College will help you grow (as a student and a person) during your undergraduate years. (300 words)

By: James Francis

There I am: a relatively shy 15-year-old male, standing in front of an all girls class reading a story about menstrual cycles and a steamy affair. A day before, I face a small mob pulling at me as if I were Jay Z as opposed to Jay Francis. It all started with Kids Powered, an organization my sister and I founded many years ago. Who would have thought we would grow from lemonade stands to one day delivering school supplies to the shantytown of Nyanza just outside Cape Town? I organized a community service project in South Africa after a family friend shared the story of teaching in the shantytowns without simple school supplies. So we raised money to buy and deliver supplies. In the first class I visited, I read aloud to the all girl class. The school did not have enough books for everyone, so the teacher often reads to the students.

Our drive to the high school was striking due to the prominent TV satellite dishes littering the roofs of tiny shacks made of scrap metal. I saw the impact of the satellites in an 11th grade boys’ math class as students asked me to describe my encounters with rap stars that they knew through television. “You never met Kanye West?”

If so many young people there connect so deeply to American pop culture, can we not find a way to excite them about other slices of America centering around, say, energy, technology or something of great benefit to the students’ futures? What if Oberlin’s revolutionary water treatment “Living Machine” came to the shantytown? I would be at home probing such a question at Oberlin, which inspires my devout interests in the college. I seek a liberal arts education that complements my passions for science and math in a way that allows me to imagine and then implement steps to a better world.

James Francis is a graduate of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School and is currently a sophomore at Oberlin College

A Quiet Guy with Loud Creations

by James Francis

I am a quiet guy with a loud side that I express through art. I have taken the most competitive math and science courses alongside the most intensive art classes every semester—sculpture, ceramics, and architecture. In my mind, I often become what I create as I have crawled the walls of the art studio as a spider or flown a helicopter above my school as a pilot.

A few years ago, I created and became a shark. My teacher gave every student a block of wood and told us to build racecars. My classmates competed to create the fastest car. I wanted something different, and my mind traveled to my undersea adventures as a certified scuba diver. I created a car with curved fins and teeth made from nail tips. It was designed to capture the contours of a great white shark. As odds would have it, the car turned out to be pretty fast.

The car drew big compliments from the teacher and my classmates.  My reaction was small: my usual polite nod and shy smile with minimal, if any, bravado. My voice is never the one you hear screaming, bragging or disturbing others in the hallway.  I reserve my thunder for my artistic creations.

The shark-shaped car was the first of my creations to attract attention outside of my family. Long before that, I built cities, cars, and buildings with Legos and other construction kits at home. A working roller coaster and a Viking castle consumed half my room. They seemed to take forever to finish, but the long road of creating them was as much fun as living with the final product.  I am still creating bold art, but, to my parent’s pleasure, my studio is no longer the center of our house. I now create in the school’s art studios.

In ninth grade, I entered a new world—The Fieldston School. During my high school days, I move freely between the intrigue of complicated equations and the lure of glue, cardboard, and X-Acto knives. The two worlds—Math/Science and Art are richly compatible. Through art, my imagination grows and the tools of math facilitate this expansion and help me to logically configure my creations.

My spider, created for an assignment asking me to make an insect, is the perfect example. A spider’s unique structure forced me to enjoin my math skills firmly into my creativity. I carefully measured each length of cardboard for its legs, cautiously shaped more sheets of cardboard to create a round body, and wrapped my materials to make a circular head. Finally finished, the sculpture stood over a foot high, and fully supported itself.

Perhaps my favorite creation was a tribute to my love of poker. I designed a trench coat entirely from playing cards. It was composed of alternating red and blue cards, held together by duct tape.  It was accompanied by a crown and staff, truly making it worthy of a king.  One of my best friends, with a more outgoing personality, modeled the coat to the awe of an audience in a school fashion show.

In some ways, art, science and math allow for the perfect escapes from my tendencies as an introvert.  With time and maturity, I am growing beyond this shyness (as my friends often note). Yet my speaking voice is not as bold as my creative one, and I greatly value the powerful ability of my art to sometimes speak for me, offering others a window to an equally important part of who I am.

James Francis,  a Freshman at Oberlin College, is a graduate of The Fieldston School.