William “Billy” Francis, director of the Florida State University Student Veterans Center, was inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame March 29. Francis’ induction was by unanimous vote of the Florida Cabinet, which also inducted 14 other veterans into the hall of fame.
A 1986 graduate of FSU, Francis served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter-jet pilot. Francis became the first director of the newly created FSU Student Veterans Center in 2011.
“I am humbled by and grateful for this recognition by the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame, but it’s actually an acknowledgement of the entire Florida State University community – from our president to our students, faculty, staff and alumni – and their campuswide support of our student veterans,” Francis said.
According to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame recognizes and honors those military veterans who “have made a significant contribution to the state of Florida through civic, business, public service, or other pursuits [with a focus] on post-military contributions to the state.”
Francis’ nominators stated: “This nomination packet serves as a commendable achievement report due to Billy’s leadership. However, what is not expressed is his character. Bottom line – Billy is an influencer. Whether it is a motivational speech during a PT session, a tear-jerking speech during a ceremony, or his delivery of unique life advice, students, for the past 10 years, have been positively influenced by Billy Francis. He is known as the “great orator” or the “go-to guy” on campus. Beyond that, his actions show the underlying truth: he deeply cares to empower and watch student veterans succeed.”
While a fighter-jet pilot, Francis logged more than 2,800 hours and as the Mission Support Group Commander at MacDill Air Force Base. In his last assignment before retiring at the rank of Colonel, Francis returned to FSU as commander of its Air Force ROTC unit.
Since the FSU Student Veterans Center’s inception, the student-veteran graduation rate has increased from 69 percent to as high as 86 percent. More than 500 veteran-focused events and activities have taken place and over 20,000 military-connected students have received support.
Notable achievements with Francis at the helm include: the launch of the Veteran Liaisons program, which now includes nearly 50 academic and administrative volunteers across campus; formation of FSU’s Student Veterans of America chapter, which encompasses the Veterans Student Union and the Collegiate Veterans Association; scholarships underwritten by scores of donors including the Emeritus Alumni Society; FSU’s designation as a Purple Heart University; broad support from the general student population—particularly for student-veterans in financial need; creation of the Scott Speicher Memorial; enhanced support for ROTC cadets; establishment of the Veterans Alumni Society; planning for the Veterans Legacy Complex; and the development and promotion of the Veterans Alliance Arrowhead symbol.
Prominent veteran-centered events include the Coin and Cord Ceremony, Fallen Heroes Ceremony, Military Appreciation Games, Veterans Military Ball, and Veterans Film Festival.
During the past 10 years, Francis has mentored and advised more than three dozen other colleges and universities on the establishment of their own veterans center and how to replicate the Florida State model of veteran support.
Francis is quick to share that praise, though.
“This has been a team effort from the beginning, with the entire Student Veterans Center staff cultivating and sustaining our unique military/veteran friendly and empowering environment. This is a special job and a special place, and I am fortunate to be surrounded by very special people,” Francis said.
Previous inductees into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame include former Florida State University President John Thrasher in 2017. The induction ceremony for the Class of 2021 is scheduled to be held at the Florida Capitol on April 27.
FVHOF News Release: https://floridavets.org/fifteen-florida-veterans-inducted-into-hall-of-fame/.