Jamaica to Harvard: Math major accepted into Harvard program

Thumbs Up: Janelle Walker gives two thumbs up in front of Medgar Evers college. She was accepted into an exclusive Harvard summer program for Biostatistics and Computational Biology.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

She came to the United States from Jamaica at 17 years-old for school, and knew her stellar grades is what makes her the standout candidate, which is why she is going to Harvard to study in an exclusive program this summer.

“They saw my Caribbean credentials,” said Janelle Walker, the now 21 year-old Mathematics major at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Walker is referring to her results from taking the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam — two regional exams administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council. The highest attainable grade for both exams is a one, based on a scale of one through five. Walker got the highest grade in all.

“I was the first student at my school in Jamaica to get all ones in biology, math, and sciences,” said Walker, who graduated from Camperdown high school in Kingston, Jamaica.

So when Walker was accepted into an exclusive summer program at Harvard she was more than excited. The six-week summer program for Biostatistics and Computational Biology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, allows students to study the sciences and math, and that is why Walker was drawn to applying. The mathematics major and environmental sciences minor seeks a program that will cater to both subjects.

“I wanted something that would combine my major and minor in a unique way,” said Walker.

The Harvard program for Biostatistics and Computational Biology will provide its students with the opportunity to learn about different methods in biological, environmental, and medical research. Students will learn the hands-on experience with using tools that researchers use to determine health risks and genetic mutations.

The former high school cheerleader was not always good at math, but when she discovered her passion, she knew it was what she loved. It all started with rocks and her backyard.

“I always loved math. My dad used to let us play with rocks in the backyard and then make me and my sister add them, subtract, and divide from them,” said Walker.

Walker vehemently despises stereotypes about math and says a simple change in the minds of her young generation could get people to enjoy the subject more. She tutors at Medgar Evers and feels that math gets its bad reputation because people do not want to see how it is reflected outside of the classroom.

“I realize a lot of the students have a difficult time because they cannot apply it to everyday life,” said Walker.

Her mentor and former high-school teacher was not at all surprised about Walker’s acceptance into the comprehensive program, and found herself at a loss for words when she heard the news.

“Excited, overjoyed, jubilant. Wanted to know how quickly I could go to Facebook and scream it to the whole world,” said Colleen Graham, Walker’s former high-school teacher and friend, and who Walker also nicknames as ‘second mommy.’ “Once you met Janelle, you knew, without a doubt, that there was something different about her. You knew that she was destined for great things in the academic arena,” said Graham.

Graham has no doubts that Harvard has gained an amazing intellect with Walker.

“I am also equally sure she will leave her trademark of excellence on the records of Harvard,” said Graham.

Walker encourages her fellow peers to go with their guts and study a field that they will not regret. Her simple advice: do not study what you have no drive for.

“If you don’t have a passion for it, and do not believe you can develop this passion over time, do not even attempt it. You have to be passionate about it,” said Walker.

Walker is driven to keep brush past adversity. “I applied for a few programs. My first response was a rejection letter from University of Minnesota,” said Walker. Not long after, a Harvard acceptance letter was in the mail. “Sometimes you’re not rejected you’re just delayed.”

Walker hopes the Biostatistics and Computational Biology program will aid her in getting a clear sense of her future goals. “I hope to gain clarity,” said Walker.

She leaves for Harvard on June 10, and is expected to graduate this fall with a degree in Bachelor of the Sciences in Mathematics.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com.

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