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The Man Behind the Billboard

by Adam Zielonka ’16 Sep 29, 2023
Devon Francis

It’s easy to spot Devon Francis’ face throughout the Lehigh Valley.

You’ve probably seen him on DeSales University billboards and in marketing materials. In 2022, he and his 8-year-old daughter, Amelia, were also the faces of Musikfest, a Bethlehem cultural staple. Their images graced the official poster design and the festival’s merchandise.

Francis, an Allentown native, is only a model in his spare time. First and foremost, he is a father of two and a DeSales alumnus working toward his MBA. Francis keeps busy supporting his family, his workplace, and the youth in his community. His genuine attitude and inspiring story linger long after you get to know the man behind the billboard. 

Francis became a father in his teens when his son, Shy-Diek Wright-Francis, was born. He knew he wanted to play a more significant role in his son’s life than his own father did during his childhood. As Shy-Diek reached high school, Francis realized he could provide an example by pursuing higher education himself. 

“I’d lecture him about the importance of having an education and some of the things that I go through in the workplace. One day, it just hit me: What better way to show how important it is than to do it?”

 Devon Francis ’22

Francis worked for Lehigh University at the time and was able to enroll in DeSales’ adult studies program through the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges. He liked DeSales’ campus, the flexibility of the courses, and the rapport with his academic adviser, David Achenbach.

“He wouldn’t let anything stand in his way,” Achenbach says. “He had a lot of speed bumps and didn’t have an easy path to get where he did, but he never complained, he never made excuses.”

In completing his degree in business administration, one of the final classes Francis took was a business policy formulation course taught by adjunct instructor Jeffrey Gormley. 

Gormley says he saw Francis grow in confidence and was impressed by his career and life success. 

“The man I saw was a dedicated student in the classroom,” Gormley says. “The man I see now, wow. He’s making things happen, in business and in life.”

While his father was getting his degree at DeSales, Shy-Diek decided to attend the University to study psychology. During his first year, he didn’t yet have a driver’s license so Francis would drive him to campus before heading to work and returning for his own classes. 

“It was a great bonding experience for the both of us,” Francis says. 

Francis graduated cum laude in 2022 and credited his DeSales education with helping him land a position at Victaulic, a manufacturing company based in Easton. But to aim for a higher managerial role there, he’s back at DeSales studying for an MBA with a concentration in Lean Six Sigma.

Shy-Diek admires his father’s perseverance. “It’s inspirational overall just to see how, against all odds, he still did what he wanted to do from the beginning,” he says. 

The stars are aligned for Francis to finish his MBA and Shy-Diek to complete his bachelor’s in spring 2024, meaning they could walk at the same commencement.

“That would be a wild experience because he’s wanted to go to college ever since I was way younger,” Shy-Diek says. “For him to walk across the stage, to do it at the same time as his son, it’s just crazy to think about.”

Devon Francis and his family

Francis and his family enjoy making memories together in the Lehigh Valley. He’s taken Amelia to Musikfest every year since she was small enough to be pushed in a stroller. Artist Bart Cooper wanted to represent a father being involved in his child’s life, and he featured Francis and Amelia on festival posters and mugs in 2022. 

In the final product, Francis is carrying Amelia on his shoulders; they’re both wearing sunglasses and grinning as they take in the festival, with a sketch of the SteelStacks behind them on a yellow canvas.

Art festivals, music festivals, museums—Francis likes to organize “daddy-daughter time” around cultural events because it’s something they can do together no matter what age Amelia is.

In addition to being a family man, Francis also makes time to give back to his community. He works on a program called Exploring Post 1919 through Victaulic, where high school students visit the company to learn engineering principles through hands-on activities. There’s also the PA Dream Team, for which he makes presentations at middle and high schools about working in manufacturing.

And every July, you can find Francis at Awesome! Fest, a basketball tournament and festival at Cedar Beach Park, lending a hand in whatever capacity festival organizers need.

“He is definitely engaged in the community and what he is doing for others,” Achenbach says.

Francis’ motivations for giving back are clear.

“It’s important to me to do it,” he says, “because I know I haven’t gotten to where I’m at without the guidance and help from other people who saw the potential in me.”