During Welcome Week, Francesca Mauceri walked from classroom to classroom, wondering if what she created worked.
She saw freshmen laughing and engaged. They were masked up and physically distanced, participating in an online trivia game about all things High Point University.
Mauceri created the game. She came up with dozens of questions to create a safe way for new students to connect during the global pandemic.
Each year, HPU’s freshmen build bikes together for local children. The teamwork and the act of serving others sets the tone for their educational journey at HPU. But during the pandemic, they couldn’t gather to build bikes as they had done in the past, so HPU officials asked Mauceri for help. Mauceri got busy.
“Did you really create THIS?” a few freshmen asked her.
“Yeah, I really did,” Mauceri responded. “I call it the High Point University Escape Room.”
Mauceri, a senior psychology major and Presidential Scholar from Smithtown, New York, is one of two HPU Extraordinary Leaders for the month of October. As president of HPU’s Peer Mentor Program, she oversees 110 peer mentors and helps them acclimate the 1,500 HPU freshmen to campus life.
Mauceri loves to see the lives of freshmen change. On her second weekend at HPU, Mauceri’s own life changed.
She boarded a bus that was rollercoaster-bound.
A Transformational Moment
The night before she left home to start her freshman year at HPU, Mauceri couldn’t sleep.
She worried about going to college 12 hours from home. She was a homebody, the youngest of two daughters, and she didn’t do anything without her family. She figured she’d go to college close to home.
But at her high school, she met an engaging HPU admissions counselor, and she couldn’t get over the campus photos she saw. Then, when she visited HPU, she discovered an inviting campus where professors asked about her and her family.
But when the day came for her to leave home for HPU, she contemplated not going. She was, in her words, “so scared.”
Yet, she knew she needed to go.
Her dad always wanted her to stretch herself, and he believed in the message he heard from HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein: In a rapidly changing world, students need to master life skills and understand business.
So, at 4 a.m. on a Thursday, Mauceri and her family drove south to HPU. Her mom and her sister slept in the back, her dad drove, and she sat in the front seat. She and her dad didn’t say a word.
Her family helped move her into R.G. Wanek Center, and they stayed through Tuesday to make sure she was OK.
“You know what, why don’t you just go?” she told them Tuesday. “It’s easier not to say goodbye.”
That week, Mauceri started looking for campus activities to do, and she saw that HPU was taking students to Carowinds, an amusement park 90 minutes south in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mauceri signed up because she loved rollercoasters, and she boarded a bus not knowing a soul.
“I have to talk to somebody on this bus,” she kept telling herself. “Who am I going to make friends with?”
She found three exchange students, two from Scotland and another from the Netherlands. They rode 10 rides together, including her favorite, the Intimidator, one of the fastest rollercoasters in the Southeast. All four became fast friends.
“My mom still talks about my Carowinds story,” Mauceri says today. “She likes to say, ‘That was not my kid who got on that bus. I don’t know her!”
For Mauceri, that was just the beginning.
A member of four honor societies, Mauceri has excelled in academics. She’s made the dean’s list every semester, and as secretary and honor chair of her sorority, Phi Mu, she helps her 180 sorority sisters with events, academics and honor code issues.
And like finding friends on the way to Carowinds, Mauceri found Phi Mu by accident.
It’s because of Irish singer Niall Horan.
She wanted to see Horan perform in Charlotte, and she sent a direct message to an HPU student she knew who was going to Horan’s concert in Charlotte. She didn’t know her, but she asked her for a ride.
Mauceri got a ride and met two other HPU students. They all were members of Phi Mu. One of those concertgoers, Ragan Keefer, became her Big, or her big sister in Phi Mu.
Other than Phi Mu, HPU’s Peer Mentor Program has defined Mauceri’s time on campus.
She became a peer mentor her sophomore year. Scott Wojciechowski, an assistant vice president for the Office of Student Life, remembers how.
“I encouraged Fran to apply,” Wojciechowski says. “She was incredibly soft-spoken and shy, and she had navigated some tough experiences her first year. She told me she wanted to make a difference on campus, and I’ve always felt learning by experience is your best teacher.”
Mauceri helped 13 incoming freshmen her sophomore year. She’d meet up with them and stop by their room to see how they’re doing and if they need any help. One of her freshmen was Grace Rathbun.
Mauceri recognized herself in Rathbun. Like Mauceri her freshman year, Rathbun was homesick. So, Mauceri invited Rathbun to play bingo with her at the Slane Student Center, and during their time together, Mauceri told her the Carowinds story.
“That night, I was proud of myself,” Mauceri says. “I helped get Grace out of her room, and after that, she’d text me and tell me that things were getting better. That showed me my words can have an impact on other people and that being a Peer Mentor is not just about getting freshmen through Welcome Week. It’s about making connections.”
By her junior year, Mauceri became a member of the executive board of the Peer Mentor Program and a representative with the Student Government Association, better known as SGA.
She then applied to become the program’s president. Her position became her most rewarding experience at HPU.
The Tenacity of Fran
COVID-19 complicated Welcome Week. But Wojciechowski and his Peer Mentor co-advisor, Crystal Crouse, HPU’s director of residence life, worked hard to provide a welcoming experience for HPU’s newest students.
Still, they needed a new event. HPU couldn’t have 1,500 freshmen working inches from one another building bikes for local children in need during a global pandemic.
So, Wojciechowski and Crouse called Mauceri for ideas about creating something that wouldn’t cost much money, could be carried out in small groups and be replicated dozens of times.
Mauceri and her older sister, Nickki, a game-show enthusiast, they worked together until 3 a.m. around their family’s dining room table. They came up with questions for a game that could be played with 115 small groups of freshmen. Those questions ranged from guessing the name of buildings to the number of lights HPU uses during its Community Christmas celebration.
When she emailed Wojciechowski her idea, he called back that day.
“Let’s do it!” he said.
“We’re going to do it?” Mauceri asked.
“Yes,” Wojciechowski responded. “Fran, this is great!”
Mauceri fleshed out her idea and emailed Wojciechowski and Crouse a PowerPoint presentation that included 70 slides worth of questions.
“That preparation, that tenacity, that is the way Fran’s mind works,” Wojciechowski says. “It’s always been inside her.”
Crucial Tips From Qubein
Mauceri still has her black notebook.
She bought it for less than $6. But it’s invaluable. Across the front is the phrase, “Kindness Is Always In Style,” and it contains the notes Mauceri took as a freshman during Dr. Qubein’s Life Skills Seminar.
She has used Qubein’s leadership tips on every aspect of her work with the Peer Mentor Program, and she expects she’ll keep that notebook close as she continues her academic journey to become a school psychologist.
Next year, she’ll pursue her master’s degree in communication and business leadership at HPU. When she graduates in May 2022, she’ll become the first member of her family with a master’s degree.
Mauceri didn’t know she had that kind of determination in her. But she does. She discovered that at HPU.
“Stepping out of your comfort zone,” she says, “that is the way you succeed here.”