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Francisco Arellano Honored with FAS Dean’s Distinction Award

Francisco Arellano Honored with FAS Dean’s Distinction Award

Francisco Arellano, MCB’s Events Coordinator, loves the graduation season. After the students put in all the hard work and sacrifice, commencement is a time for them to celebrate and look forward to the future. The end of the semester is also a good time for Francisco to look back on what it was like for him as a student and reflect on how he was able to support the students while they were at Harvard.

It’s that empathy and contagious excitement that earned him a FAS Dean’s Distinction Award, which recognizes staff for their outstanding contributions to their departments.

“Francisco is nominated for Dean’s Distinction for exceeding regular responsibilities and expectations in the face of unexpected challenges while continuing to demonstrate ingenuity and creativity in his role,“ MCB representatives noted in their collaborative nomination letter.

“Francisco’s role is critically important for fostering community and collaboration. He applies his boundless creativity, kindness, humor, and energy to everything he does.”

Arellano was born in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, the land of the Mexican Band Music. He and his family moved to Sonora State when he was 10. At 16 years old, Arellano already knew that he wanted to do something in marketing and planning events. While studying at the Instituto Tecnológico de Sonora (ITSON) in Mexico for his degree in accounting, he also held down several jobs. His first was at KPMG, an accounting firm, but he quickly realized that this was not a good fit for him to flourish and express himself. Next, he started his ‘events’ career path at ITSON by managing first, one, and ultimately, several cafes and bookstores across four campuses.

After finishing his undergraduate degree, he stayed at the same institution to work on his master’s degree in business administration, which he received in 2002. In 2004, with his degrees in hand, he moved to the US because he knew he would have many more opportunities.

Arellano’s career began when he landed his first job with Caterstaff of Boston in 2004. That experience provided him with the opportunity to go to MIT—well, the Faculty Club at MIT― where he also met his longtime partner, Joe. Ultimately, MIT recruited him as a catering manager. In that position, he supported huge MIT events and directed those that were hosted by MIT’s president.

In 2013, Arellano finally had the opportunity to move down the river to the better school, aka Harvard, where he worked for Crimson Catering.  Six years later, he started his position as Supervisor of Custodial and Events at Harvard’s Law School.

Then COVID-19 happened. The University closed overnight, and everyone had to leave campus within 24 hours. What about the international students who got stranded on campus because their countries closed their borders?! Uncertainty, fear, panic—a full range of emotions broke out because students were forced to stay separated from their loved ones during uncertain times.

“It was so sad to watch the students and not be able to do anything for them,” Francisco recalls.

Francisco is not someone who would just sit around and watch. It was difficult, if not impossible, to convince any of his 50+ staff members to come to work because Harvard paid all employees even if they stayed home. Over 100 law students were stranded, and they needed to be fed and receive their medications while they were forced to stay indoors. At that time, there were no vaccines, no KN95 masks, or other protective gear.  Arellano was part of a six-person team that created the lifeline for those students. He and his five colleagues worked 12+ hours seven days a week to provide three daily meals plus essential supplies and medication to those stranded students.

“That experience taught me humility and made me realize what is important in life,” he says.  “Nothing is perfect, but you can find something good in any situation. I have a simple formula: Surround yourself with people who you love, treat them how you want to be treated, find something positive in any situation, appreciate what you have, and be happy. That’s it.

We all have problems, and nothing is perfect, but we don’t have to bring that to work. I find enjoyment in knowing that I try to do something good for someone, every single day.”

He adds, “The type of support the six of us provided during the beginning of the pandemic was scary but I HAD to do it because those people were in need. To me, these efforts felt heroic because, in a way, we were first responders.”

Those efforts made Arellano realize that he needed to be part of a less centralized and smaller group… That is how he ended up at MCB.

“MCB welcomed me with open arms, and for this, I am deeply grateful,” he says. “I could not ask for better co-workers. They are simply great. They have supported and guided me in transitioning from the law school to the life sciences. Yes, those are very different worlds. I have found my home base. I am part of a team. We work hard, but we all help, support and appreciate each other.”

That appreciation goes both ways because after only two years in the department, his colleagues decided to nominate him for this award and the letters of support kept pouring in. Students, postdocs, staff, and faculty were eager to share what a wonderful addition Arellano is and how he has supported them.

Some of the accolades include:

“He approaches every task with the utmost care, professionalism, and positivity.”

“Francisco has an uncanny ability to customize each event perfectly for the diverse preferences of MCB’s faculty, staff, students, and guests. He understands that community-building requires flexibility and attentiveness to varied interests and perspectives.”

“Francisco’s warm, responsive approach has earned him widespread admiration and respect across the department and beyond. He is always ready to help and flawlessly performs his tasks.”

“Through his exemplary leadership as Events Coordinator, Francisco has strengthened the vitality and cohesion of MCB’s community.”

Yet his favorite event is MCB’s annual Research Retreat. This year’s overnight retreat will be held at the beginning of the fall semester on Cape Cod. All MCB researchers are invited to attend. It is a challenging event because it has many moving parts but the scientists really enjoy leaving their labs and offices behind, and they use the opportunity to exchange research updates, by attending talks, poster sessions, or having informal conversations while sitting on the beach, or around the firepit. Arellano believes that it is just as important to get to know each other outside the lab by spending the evening playing board games, going to the dance party, or simply going for a walk along the beach. Since there are so many moving parts to this event, planning for it is already in full swing. “I would not be able to do this alone,” he says, and the planning committee has been meeting since last year’s retreat.

It should be no surprise that when Arellano is not working, he helps a friend who owns an event/catering business. However, they put on events for industry and people with deep pockets. With that company and a larger budget, Arellano is able to REALLY express himself. Think gold-plated dinnerware or a ceiling covered with roses.

Arellano also loves to spend time with Joe and Max (their 13-year old Havanese), Portuguese family, and friends. When Joe and Arellano travel overseas, typically to warmer climates and close to beaches, Max prefers to stay behind because he likes to stick to his routines.

Traveling to other countries allows Arellano to immerse himself in other cultures, meet new people and their customs, and taste new foods. It is also a great opportunity to collect new ideas for upcoming events. He says these excursions should be considered ‘business trips!’

According to his nomination letter, “Francisco is the type of person who not only makes Harvard work but who also makes you WANT to go to work at Harvard.”

Arellano will be celebrated along with the other FAS Dean’s Distinction honorees, this Wednesday,  on June 5 from 2 to 4 pm at Dunster House.


Francisco Arellano

Francisco Arellano