Inspiring Change Through Biology and Africana Studies

“My heart has been in medicine for as long as I can remember,” Jessenia Roldan, a senior biology major from Clifton, NJ (Passaic County) recalls. She has spent summers in research labs as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), interning at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) in Camden as part of the Pre-medical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment Program (PULSE), and countless hours studying biology and medicine. With the goals of being a surgeon one day, Jessenia found a minor that fueled her passion even more and gave her a mission within the medical field: Africana Studies.

“Sophomore year, I took an introductory course to Africana Studies as an elective and fell in love with it. It opened my eyes to so many things — politics, race, issues in society. I decided, ‘I have to add this minor!'” she says. Her involvement from there snowballed as she acquired leadership positions in the Dr. Harley Flack Mentoring Program, the department of Social Justice, Inclusion and Conflict Resolution (SJICR), and the Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPS). As an undergraduate coordinator for the Dr. Harley Flack Mentoring program through SJICR, Jessenia supervises mentors and mentees, hosts workshops and activities, and encourages volunteer events to give students the same opportunities she had when she was introduced to the program the summer before her freshman year through ASCEND, which includes the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and RISE.Especially as a first-generation Latina college student in the STEM field, having a mentor eased the transitional period between high school and college. “I was happy to come into college my freshman year with a community of people that I already knew — this office became our niche,” Jessenia says of the SJICR office.

Jessenia spends time visiting some of the inclusive lounges that the SJICR offers for any LGBTQ+ students, religious practices, lactation and more.

As the SJICR became her self-described “home away from home,” Jessenia grew close with professors and mentors who encouraged her to apply for an internship through the Africana Studies department, since she was already so involved. Lo and behold, she scored the internship here at Rowan and now helps with marketing efforts, social media planning, speaking at events and advocating the minor to students! The best part of the job is that both the AS and SJICR departments have helped Jessenia understand different cultures and diversity, and led to valuable friendships throughout her time at Rowan.

Jessenia stops to chat with friends in the SJICR office halls.

“A lot of people don’t understand the dynamics and issues revolving around race, so it’s important to learn so we can be a better community and support those who need it — we need to be allies.” Jessenia says. And her involvement with both departments has helped her to do just that. “I want to be a leader in the community and help people in urban communities who are underrepresented. Because how can you be a good physician if you don’t understand the people that you’re serving?”

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Story and photography by:
Nicole Cier, junior writing arts major