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Shawna-Kaye Lester: The Heart Behind Memorable Essay

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMKimberly Goodall
Shawna-Kaye Lester
Shawna-Kaye Lester
Shawna-Kaye Lester

Growing up, Shawna-Kaye Lester had many dreams, but was not sure what she wanted to become. She, however, worked tirelessly to chase her three passions - education, health care, and communication.

Today, at 30 years old, the former head girl of Immaculate Conception High School, has two master's degrees, and recently launched her company - Memorable Essay - a university-admissions consulting business.

The road to get here was not direct. At age seven, Lester wrote a novel in her notebook in hopes of becoming a writer. When she was 10 years old, she wanted to become a lawyer. By the time she had got to high school, she had found interest in basketball. This was just the beginning of her talents and loves, as between fourth and fifth form, she participated in School's Challenge Quiz, won many national essay competitions and wrote for The Gleaner's Youthlink magazine with the desire to become an international journalist. She also played double bass in her school's orchestra.

After her studies in natural sciences and languages (Spanish and crash French) in high school, Lester applied and got into the University of the West Indies' Medical Sciences programme as well as Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. She admits that her decision to attend Bates was a simple one.

"I wanted to go to a place where I could continue to learn languages and science, and continue playing in an orchestra, all at once," Lester told Flair.

In 2004, Lester journeyed to Maine to major in biochemistry and Spanish. While completing a premedical track in college, she became interested in biotechnology and genetic medicine, and thought of becoming a biomedical researcher. She completed her biochemistry senior thesis on the 'Use of interference RNA in asthma care', which was inspired by her mother's severe asthmatic condition.




Lester watched her mother - Louise Anderson - working day and night shifts, as well as weekends and public holidays. This motivated Lester to work very hard and excel in school.

By the end of her stint at Bates, the relentless scholar applied and won a Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholarship. For Lester, this was a blessing. During her time at Bates, she struggled to find money for clothes and was unable to access her grades because she could not pay her student contribution. This would have hindered many, but with the help of the dean of international students, she was able to see her accomplishments and continue to excel.

After college, Lester took a year off from school to return to Jamaica and worked as a college counsellor, consultant at the World Bank, and volunteered with the Ministry of Health.

"During this time, I became convinced that I would become a public-health physician, and work in the media like Dr Tony Vendryes or Dr Sanjay Gupta. I had spent two memorable occasions at Spanish Town Hospital seeking care for my mother, and the place was an absolute circus. I could see, even as someone accompanying a patient, how many issues there were linked to public health - low staffing, lots of young men coming in with violence-related injuries, too few nebulisers for asthmatic patients, frustrated personnel," Lester said.

Three Passions

In 2009, Lester travelled back to the States to pursue a master's degree in journalism and a Master of Public Health on a scholarship at Columbia University. Based on her experience, she also thought of medicine and applied for med schools. But one day on a bus while returning from an interview, she realised she did not want it badly enough.

"I realised I wanted people to be healthy and empowered, but there were many ways to do that, and I was not on fire as I once was about becoming a physician," she explained.

She went on to share that after she completed graduate school, she started applying for jobs that would combine education, health care, and media.

She got a full-time job at Guttmacher Institute, in April 2013 as a communications associate. This job was ideal for Lester because she got to translate scientific research findings into language the general public could understand.

Memorable Essay

This job also helped her become stronger at strategic communications, which is what she does now with Memorable Essay.

As a first-year student in college, Lester showed others how to write and put together successful essays, fellowship, grant, and scholarship applications. From this developing passion, she took on the role of a senior admissions fellow at Bates, full-time college access counsellor at A-QUEST, and after being bombarded with requests to help with applications, Lester started working independently as a university admissions consultant and writing coach. This was the start of Memorable Essay.

Memorable Essay strives to help ambitious individuals seeking to get educational and professional opportunities they need to create the life and legacy they want.

In September, Lester launched Memorable Essay's website and published the workbook 'How to Write a Memorable Personal Statement in 8 Steps'.

"My ancestors and my future self both motivate me at work and in my everyday life. I recognise that in order for me to be alive, there were people who summoned strength to live through the unlivable. I thank them by using my time to do work I find liberating and which allows me to help others to be able to create their ideal lives," she shared.

You can follow Lester on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @skayeonline or visit her website for more details on how to apply for your dream opportunity.