Sat | Jun 12, 2021

Jamaican makes history at Virginia university

Published:Wednesday | May 5, 2021 | 12:32 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Gleaner Writer
Jay-Anne Johnson is fascinated with hardcore science and wanted to pursue a degree that would allow her to combine physics, biology, and chemistry.
Jay-Anne Johnson is fascinated with hardcore science and wanted to pursue a degree that would allow her to combine physics, biology, and chemistry.
Jay-Anne Johnson has her heart set on sparking desire for science internationally, particularly in her homeland.
Jay-Anne Johnson has her heart set on sparking desire for science internationally, particularly in her homeland.
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Jay-Anne Johnson was initially bothered by the fact that she was the only black student in her classes at the Virginia-based university she attended. But on Sunday, the Jamaica-born 21-year-old will become the first black female student to graduate...

Jay-Anne Johnson was initially bothered by the fact that she was the only black student in her classes at the Virginia-based university she attended.

But on Sunday, the Jamaica-born 21-year-old will become the first black female student to graduate with a bachelor’s in biophysical chemistry in that state.

Johnson, who migrated to the United States when she was 10, has witnessed racism first hand in a country where blacks represent around 14 per cent of the population. But she was determined not to become a statistic when she enrolled at James Madison University (JMU).

“I noticed that everywhere I went, like all my classes particularly, there were either one or two black students and in my major classes. I was the only one for a while,” she said.

“Noticing that was kind of like discouraging at first, because like if I failed, I failed all the black people instead of just myself. So there was that extra pressure almost,” said Johnson, who grew up with her parents and cousins in Hughenden, St Andrew, before migrating.

Although her ultimate goal is to become an orthopaedic surgeon, Johnson is fascinated with hardcore science and wanted to pursue a degree that would allow her to combine physics, biology, and chemistry. She came across the programme at JMU while searching online one day.

Over the last four years, Johnson has been doing research with one of her professors. After graduating, she would like to spend another year or two in pinnacle trial research to get a better grasp of healthcare. Then she plans to apply for medical school.

Currently, the undergraduate student is conducting research on enzymes along with her professor, Dr Isaiah Sumner. She is targeting publication later this year.

“I am a little bit excited, but still very much a little nervous about what the next phase of life is going to look like,” Johnson said.

In Jamaica, policymakers have been struggling to ignite interest in STEM subjects. Johnson has her heart set on sparking desire for science internationally, particularly in her homeland.

“Definitely what I would hope to do is bring some of the initiatives and programmes I have been taught here at JMU, I can bring it back to Jamaica and hopefully excite younger students and people who are like the same age as me who are going to college,” Johnson said.

The aspiring doctor tries to visit Jamaica often, but she hasn’t been able to come back since the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she has always felt welcome when she is on ‘The Rock’.

“I miss being in the same space as my family and friends that I grew up with, but I definitely miss just being with the people,” Johnson said.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com