It has been ten years since Frances Ellerbe graduated from Heathwood Hall, but she remembers certain things as if they happened yesterday. Of course, as a “lifer” who spent 14 years on the Heathwood campus, Frances has a lot of great experiences to recall! There was Miss Susie’s kindergarten class, participating in the PEAK outdoor program, playing the flute in the band, and remembering headmasters Bob Shirley and Steve Hickman. Frances especially appreciated the continuity of getting to know students, teachers and the campus across many years, and experiencing some favorite Heathwood traditions from different perspectives as she advanced through the grades. She remembers the Christmas book project, first with her middle-school “buddy,” and then later as a buddy herself. Similarly, she loved exploring the PEAK outdoor learning space as a young student, and then later having the opportunity to help young students herself as a Peak Student Leader. One of her fondest memories, however, was of dressing up as a 4-year-old in her Highlander best and cheering for the Homecoming parade. She loved the event every year, but has a special memory, immortalized in a picture, of herself and her good friend Catherine Walker decked out in kilts and ready to cheer.
After graduating in 2008, Frances went west, studying at Stanford University. She says she knew that California and its big cities would be quite different from the east coast and Columbia, and recalls being a bit nervous: “I wondered what it would be like in a big, different pond.” Her worries were unfounded, however. She says, “As it turns out, my worries fell away immediately; Heathwood prepared me very well.” She had such a good experience, in fact, that she ended up getting both her BS and MS in Environmental Engineering there.
Still, the call of the east coast, and Columbia, remained, and in 2013 Frances returned to Columbia to work for Woolpert, a national geospatial architecture and engineering firm. Her focus is on stormwater and flooding projects, and her company was part of efforts to help deal with the catastrophic flooding of October 2015. “It feels good to work for a place that has advanced technology which it uses to help the community,” she says.
Heathwood quickly became a part of Frances’s life again when she returned to Columbia. She says, “Getting involved with the Alum Happy Hours was a great way to reconnect with friends and meet new alums.” She's has found other ways to be involved as well; she has enjoyed the annual Christmas Alumni Gatherings, and has returned to campus to speak at the National Honor Society induction ceremony. Band Director John Duhan even talked her into reprising her Heathwood band-days by coming to play the flute with the pep band. “It was fun, and a great opportunity to show how you can keep up with your interest in the arts in your post-school life,” Frances says. She's has been very happy to be involved with all of these events, saying, “I like the idea of a young alum coming back to connect with students, bridging the gap with a different voice or perspective.” With a laugh, she adds, “I may be aging out of that position soon, though!”
Most recently, Frances has been a volunteer member of the Heathwood HHarts (Friends of the Arts) Advisory Board, setting up a member database, drafting HHarts bylaws, and brainstorming arts opportunities for our students. Most recently, she has been a volunteer at the HHarts concession table at the fall musical performances. She especially loves volunteering in the arts, saying that “it gives me a way to give back to Heathwood in a way that connects with my background and favorite experiences.”
The next chapter of Frances's life will be full of new adventures as well. She is marrying Bo Bryan (’07) in May, and is looking forward to their new life together. As two alums teaming up together in life, Frances is sure there will be many more opportunities to stay connected with their classmates and other alums, and to visit the campus for events in the future. And speaking of the future—who knows? Maybe one day Frances will be snapping a picture of a new little Highlander in a kilt cheering for the Homecoming parade!