First-Generation College Student and Future Engineering Faculty Member Awarded with McKnight Doctoral Fellowship

portrait of doctoral student franchesca bellevu in front of the famu-fsu college of engineering

Franchesca Bellevu, an FSU alumna and current engineering doctoral student at the joint college and FAMU, aims to become one of the 3% of engineering faculty in the U.S. who are Black. (Scott Holstein/FAMU-FSU College of Engineering)

When Franchesca Bellevu received the news in April 2024 that she had received the respected McKnight Fellowship, she saw it as one step closer to her dream of being a professor.

Bellevu graduated from Florida State University in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and manufacturing engineering. She is working on her doctorate from Florida A&M University at the joint college.

“Elite programs like this one can be costly, which can be a huge stressor on students,” Bellevu said. “The McKnight Fellowship offers students like me the blessing of stress reduction—and support that allows us to focus on becoming a part of the 3%. I’m beyond grateful that they believe in me and want to support me in reaching my goals!”

The McKnight Doctoral Fellowship Program helps new Ph.D. students who often need financial assistance to attend graduate school. The goal is to increase the underrepresentation of African American and Hispanic faculty at colleges and universities in Florida. The scholarship provides annual tuition and stipends for up to five academic years. 

On the occasion of her fellowship award, we sat down with Bellevu, and she shared some thoughts about her engineering journey so far.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Miami. My mother was born in Haiti and immigrated in the 1980s. So, I’m a first-generation college student and first-generation American.

Why did you choose an HBCU for your graduate studies?

Who wouldn’t want to attend the No. 1 Public HBCU in the Nation? I originally attended Florida State as an undergrad, but while on the engineering campus, I made many friends at FAMU and met many FAMU professors. It happened naturally that I started doing research. Hearing feedback about FAMU from my friends just sealed the deal. 

What motivated you to pursue a graduate degree?

In recent years, I have realized that I want to be a professor. I like to get advice from people who are where I want to be, so after meeting all my professors, I planned my next steps. 

What are you currently working on? 

My research involves exploring hybrid structures with additive manufacturing. Specifically, I’m trying to investigate photodetection sensors made this way. 

Who inspired your passion for this research?

When I was in high school, my grandfather went blind. From that moment, I decided I wanted to make something he could use, like a sensor embedded in a wearable implant. 

What do you hope to accomplish during your graduate career?

I plan to work on my relationship with chemistry and explore the world of material science.  I say this because I really hate chemistry, and one of my goals is to develop a better understanding of it. I also want to explore professional development in my quest to become a professor. I want to get more comfortable presenting in front of large crowds and interacting with students.

Do you have advice for someone considering graduate school?

Graduate school is about delayed gratification. It takes a lot of hard work and diligence, but it is rewarding. Going to graduate school is a commitment to being a lifelong learner. There is a learning curve, so it’s OK if you don’t get it at first—it gets better the more you endure.


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