Jasmine Carter, a 2016 graduate of Fairfield Central High School, is a quintessential introvert — quiet, reserved, and thoughtful. Jasmine, 22, is not one to seek attention. Thankfully, she agreed to tell her story about how an insecure, young girl from rural Jenkinsville, South Carolina, developed the mindset and skills to graduate second in her class and earn a much-needed scholarship to college.
Jasmine’s story captures what effective mentoring looks like and how it helps young people, particularly those from under-represented communities. Her story is one about a better future for every young person — how our public education system, from cradle to career, can help students reach their full potential. Her story shines a light on a whole child and whole community approach to teaching and learning and illustrates how our universities and colleges can do more to close opportunity and achievement gaps.
In May 2020, Jasmine graduated Summa Cum Laude, and was a member of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where she majored in biology and minored in chemistry. She completed several research internships, including one at Vanderbilt University. Jasmine is proud to be a first-generation college graduate, but explains students like her face challenges to be ready for medical school or careers in science.
“When you do not see any representation of Black professionals in your lives, then it can be hard to believe that you can enter into those spaces,” she said. “Some students see their parents working jobs and not having a career— and as a result, some just do not believe certain occupations or professions are for them.”
Reflecting back, Jasmine wishes she and other students had more of a long-term strategy. And she says her story shows the role of mentors in developing an ambitious educational plan.
In the fifth grade, Jasmine had the first of several life-changing encounters that fueled her interest in medicine. A nurse spoke to her class.
“She talked about her career, and we were asked to participate in an essay contest,” Jasmine said. “I won a stethoscope. The next thing you know, I was doing a lot of research into the medical field.”
That was the beginning of a support network that has encouraged and motivated Jasmine.
Along with her mother, Jasmine cites as mentors Rahim El-Amin, the administrator who ran her high school’s freshman academy; Jane Wilson, her tenth-grade biology teacher; and Carolyn Means, the PowerSchool coordinator.
“A few things began to happen for me,” she said. “There was Mr. Rahim El-Amin, who was the administrator, who told my mother about my potential and that I should be in the honors classes.” With his encouragement, Jasmine took dual enrollment courses and AP Biology. She graduated high school with 18 college credits, ready and eligible for the scholarships she needed.
Mr. El-Amin remembers that when he asked teachers to nominate a freshman of the month, Jasmine’s name came up repeatedly.“I remember how she doubted herself and how she talked about being not good enough,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together; I slowly introduced her to the honors classes.”
Jasmine says Ms. Wilson’s hands-on lessons inspired her to choose biology as a major. And she says Ms. Means, who passed away this spring, remained a mentor.
“She was there for me in college, as well, whenever I needed her,” Jasmine said, “whether it was for help with editing a scholarship essay, writing a letter of recommendation, or providing encouragement and guidance. She is still there for me helping me with my personal growth.”
Jasmine already has traveled a great distance from Jenkinsville — literally and figuratively. She has gone to India for a medical internship. She has presented at professional conferences in Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Nashville, and Anaheim.
She has studied onco-cardiology with one of her Claflin professors, Lillianne H. Wright, Ph.D., an accomplished cellular and molecular researcher with a primary focus on cancer and cardiovascular disease. Wright says mentors play an important role in helping young people believe in themselves, especially those in fragile circumstances.
“You have to realize that those from more rural, isolated communities have so few opportunities to see what you can be,” she said. “There is access to resources and people who can help you redirect the narrative when other signals from peers and parents tell you academic achievement is not for you.”
Mentors can help with other important social-emotional skills, including a growth mindset.
“If you look at the 15-17 competencies that medical schools are looking for, only a few are academic,” Wright said. “The rest are about mindset and the confidence needed to lead other health care professionals in the care of another human being.”
Jasmine is convinced that many young people from Fairfield can do what she has done.
“When I was in school, we did not have apprenticeships and internships,” Jasmine said. “We need them.” She pointed to cultural immersion opportunities and study skills training as key. “We need our alumni to help with mentoring,” she said. “It is important that we see someone from our community helping us.”
Jasmine was clear about the excellent teachers she has had. She bragged about many educators in Fairfield County, and pointed to the changes she would like to see take hold in a whole child approach to education.
“Too many of our courses do not help prepare us to think and ask questions,” Jasmine said. “In my dual enrollment courses, we were expected to think all the time. We need senior projects like I have done in college. We should be able to learn more through community service. We should be able to start clubs that fuel our passions. Students should also be able to start clubs that focus on entrepreneurship, credit, investing, taxes, loans, and saving.”
A recent Claflin graduate, Jasmine is taking a gap experience to work and study for the Medical College Admission Test. In the face of the pandemic, she is looking to do something to assist her community with the public health crisis of our lifetime.
Jasmine believes mentoring is an important part of a larger strategy to transform public education and the lives of young people, no matter their zip code.
“I think so many more kids can do more and believe in themselves if they had many more chances to be mentored and shadow college students on their campuses,” she said. “We also need assistance in getting in contact with other professionals to shadow and explore career options. … I did not know all of the careers you can have related to biology and medicine.”
One of Jasmine’s mentors, Lillianne Wright, agrees, and says Jasmine’s journey is proof that mentoring can leverage opportunity so that more young people will set and achieve high goals.
“Jasmine’s story,” Wright said, “highlights the incredible, brilliant, and capable young lady that she is.”