May 06 2016

Jasmine Williams Is Living the Dream

In the days leading up to Commencement, the Mailman School website is featuring first-person accounts from nine members of the graduating class as they reflect on their singular paths into public health, some of the surprising lessons they took away from their experience at the Mailman School, and their aspirations for the years ahead.

Among others, you’ll meet a former high school teacher who excelled in the lab while working to overcome the “imposter syndrome”; a Texas native intent on improving the odds for young women’s access to reproductive health in her home state; an executive who teamed up with “Jeopardy”-beating technology to improve cancer outcomes; and a scholarship-winning MHA grad set on making his mark at the Mayo Clinic.

Growing up in New York City and fascinated with math, Jasmine Williams thought that Columbia University was the perfect school for her, so when she found out about the eight-week Columbia Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics (CSIBS), she immediately applied. Now that she’s on her way to earning an MS in Biostatistics on a Theory and Methods track, she’s amazed at how far she’s come, and how close she is to the future she’s wanted since childhood.

 

Even before I started in college, I knew that I wanted to study mathematics for a career. But while math was fun and challenging, I was drawn to do something that directly applied to the lives of people, rather than study straight theory. It wasn’t until shortly before my graduation from Hunter when I ran into one of my statistics professors that my path to the Mailman Biostatistics Department began to fall into place.

I didn’t know what I was going to do with my math degree, and my professor knew I liked applied sciences, so she asked me if I had ever considered biostatistics. I was thrilled to find out that Columbia had summer biostatistics training program at Mailman. I immediately applied. Through CSIBS, I got to work with Dr. Dana March from the Epidemiology Department on a project that looked at the prevalence of diabetes in minority populations—something which has been a big influence on my research interest in minority health up to the present day.

On April 28, as part of the Biostatistics practicum poster session, I presented research I did with Dr. Sara Lopez-Pintado, in which we examined the effectiveness of an online app to help a black and Hispanic population manage their diabetes. That project was exciting because it brought together people from different STEM fields— biology, computer science, and mathematics—all to create something new and benefit society as a whole.

If it wasn’t for my time in CSIBS and meeting Dr. March, I might never have come to Mailman. Even though I’ve wanted to attend Columbia for years, in my community of working class black Americans the cost of school is a major factor. But Dr. March told me not to worry about the money. Once I got my degree, the money would take care of itself. I just needed to apply.

It hasn’t always been easy. The classes are challenging, and I’m one of the only black women in the program. But anytime things got tough, I would think of my younger sister who looks to me for guidance, and my friends who were so proud that I was earning a degree from Columbia. Sometimes I would even hear my father’s voice saying, “Keep going, Jasmine. This is what you want to do, so do it.” That would help me put on my game-face and focus.

For the future, I’m looking to work in another medical center because I want to stay in academia. I know that the money is great in pharma, but my heart isn’t in it. I want to work on research that helps people. Having work experience before deciding on whether to get my doctorate is also important to me. I’ve been in school my whole life, so I want to learn more about myself and develop my skills in the workplace before committing to a PhD.

Now that I’m near the end of my time at Mailman, I appreciate the fact that I’m here and I’m proud that I’m about to become a Biostatistics graduate. I’ve wanted to come to Columbia since high school and my friends tell me all the time, “You made it happen.” I’m living my dreams right now.

Over the next two weeks leading up to Commencement, the Mailman School website will feature first-person accounts from nine members of the graduating class as they reflect on their singular paths into public health, some of the surprising lessons they took away from their experience at the Mailman School, and their aspirations for the years ahead.

Among others, you’ll meet a Pakistani native whose inquisitive nature was rewarded at Mailman even as the Taliban attacked her old school; a former high school teacher who excelled in the lab while working to overcome the “imposter syndrome”; an executive who teamed up with “Jeopardy”-beating technology to improve cancer outcomes; an aspiring physician who hit on the winning formula for compassionate care; and a scholarship-winning MHA grad set on making his mark at the Mayo Clinic.

- See more at: https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/class-2016-chey-onuoha-says-don%E2%80%99t-mess-texas#sthash.TxgzJNsA.dpuf