Mentor Program

From Mentorship to Friendship

October 9, 2023

Marybe Assouan and Racquel Francis celebrate their 13-year friendship that began during the Robins Mentoring Program.

Racquel Francis was looking for guidance when she joined the Robins Mentoring Program in 2010 during the fall of her junior year. “I was a first-generation student, kind of shy, and the only one in my family that studied business,” she said. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know and needed someone to handhold me a bit.”

Francis was paired with Marybe Assouan, a 2005 Robins School graduate. “When I was asked to be a mentor, it was a natural ‘yes,’” said Assouan of her experience. She had previously given her time and expertise as a volunteer at professional development programs like Q-camp and through admissions interviews but wanted to do more. “I knew I could be a resource in using my own experience as a minority in business.”   

The two were introduced as mentor and mentee, but thirteen years later, they are now more like sisters. “Before the end of the mentorship program, I told her she was never getting rid of me,” Francis said. “All these years later it still surprises me how big her heart is and how much she invests in people.”

Francis and Assouan met regularly while she was finishing school, meeting for dinner or frozen yogurt and spending hours talking. Francis studied accounting, and as a professional in the field, Assouan would introduce her to colleagues and experiences to help broaden her vision. “She was always very structured and determined in our meetings,” Assouan said. “She had specific goals about entering the accounting industry, and I wanted her to glean as much as possible from a wide range of experiences.”

During her senior year, Francis changed her major and relied on Assouan in making the tough decision. “I saw myself in two careers,” Francis said. “I called Marybe in hysterics, and she helped me assess the situation and determine what I wanted and needed. Even today, that’s still a theme of our relationship—I go all in, and Marybe pulls me back to look at the big picture.”

They both credit intentionality for the closeness of their relationship. “It was never a one-way relationship,” Assouan said. “She made a conscious effort also to be a resource for me—sending me articles that made her think of me, having conversations about personal finance, sharing stock market advice. It wasn’t a burden to be her mentor.”

Their relationship became even deeper this past year as they leaned on each other during difficult times. Francis planned to return to Richmond, but her housing fell through, and she stayed with Assouan while she figured out a new living situation. “I really needed a mental reset, and she provided that for me. The groundwork has been laid over 13 years, but that really took our friendship to the next level,” Francis said. She returned the favor a few months later when she took residence again to care for Assouan after a medical scare. “We went from mentor-mentee to roommates and nurse assistant to cook and hairdresser. We do everything together.”

The two became vacation buddies this past summer when they traveled together to Cartagena, Colombia, near clear blue water. Their calendars are now filled with festivals and walking dates.

“We both came out of a difficult year and are there to hold each other accountable about being intentional with the future,” Assouan said. Francis added, “We’re going into our winning season!”