St. John’s Student Seeks to Empower Young People of Color to Pursue College
Chemistry major Jenna Charles reserves time in her packed schedule of studying at St. John’s University to become an emergency medicine physician to return to her hometown, Jamaica, Queens, NY, for talks with students who share her roots as low socio-economic people of color. She wants to make sure they know about their options for college—especially the girls.
“Through my service work at St. John’s, one of the biggest lessons I learned was serving all of God’s people—not just picking and choosing which individuals I want to help.”
- BS in Chemistry
- MS in Chemistry
- St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
“My hope is that other minority females can see themselves in me and strive to place themselves in influential positions,” said Jenna, who will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in May 2023 and a Master of Science degree in Chemistry in May 2024. “It’s important to me to go back home and let these students know that they don’t have to go out of state to attain a higher education and pay out-of-state fees.’’
She added, “Not only is St. John’s University local to them, but it’s also accessible and inclusive of all students. I let them know they should never feel like they aren’t worth a higher education.”
Growing up in the neighborhood, according to Jenna, meant it was not a common occurrence for the aspiring physician to connect with colleges and universities that are “private, academically excellent, and community strong.”
“The fact that St. John’s is located in my hometown has really shown me and other individuals that we are worthy of attending a prestigious university,” said Jenna. “We don’t have to relocate to another city that’s gentrified or part of an expensive neighborhood.”
Her opportunities to help various communities in roles that included serving the homeless; volunteering at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; and serving as a member of the University’s President’s Society, as a student ambassador, and as a career peer leader with St. John’s Career Services, pointed her in the direction of her chosen career.
“Through my service work at St. John’s, one of the biggest lessons I learned was serving all of God’s people—not just picking and choosing which individuals I want to help,” Jenna said. “St. John’s gave me the chance to explore different communities, and through this, I was able to navigate a medical career where I am able to serve everyone.”
The University’s very diverse community is one of its greatest assets, said Jenna. “St. John’s diversity helped me to connect with other students who look like me, grew up like me, and share similar experiences and interests. Because of this, I was able to find my place at St. John’s and develop my tight-knit community. It’s a large University, yet there is something here for everyone to feel like you belong.”
“To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done,” she said, advising new students to “allow yourself to be okay with the unknown.”
She added that she gave herself ample time to immerse herself in campus life through such activities as becoming dance captain of the LIVE Dance Crew.
“St. John’s will put you in places you never even thought you'd be given the opportunity to be a part of,” Jenna said. “This is your college experience and you’re in control. St. John’s gives you the car—but you steer the wheel.”