By Sadaf Ayaz
The most striking element in Hunter College pre-health advisor, Kemile Jackson’s office, is a piece of paper hung on the back of her desktop monitor. It’s a diagram that attempts to explain success as an iceberg.
It’s called The Iceberg Illusion, illustrating that people see very little of what success really consists of.
“I want the students to know it isn’t all roses and sunshine,” Jackson said. “People don’t see the dedication, hard work, good habits, disappointments, sacrifice, failure and persistence that are needed for reaching their goals.”
Jackson helps almost 1200 students registered in the pre-health office through their undergraduate journey. She also allots time for thousands of other students who are interested in pre-med and are under the process of fulfilling requirements to register with the office. Most importantly, she helps students prepare and apply to graduate schools—mainly medical school.
In the three years since she took the job, she has created a reputation as a trusted mentor to many students. In fact, “ask Kemile” is the common advice pre-health students give each other and Jackson welcomes it with an open-door policy, which allows students to stop by her office without an appointment to discuss any issues they are going through. Jackson will often stop whatever she is doing to address the students’ needs.
On a typical day, Jackson, who often sports a black cardigan over her business-casual outfits, can regularly be seen stopped by students eager with questions and updates. She usually greets students as they come to attend events with health professionals, informational sessions and wellness events.
Jackson was behind the creation of the series of well-rounded events to help students, who are expected to be well-rounded, navigate through what she describes as a “lonely and demanding process.”
Moreover, pre-health students can expect to receive up to almost 30 emails a day from Jackson, including weekends. “I try to send them reminders so they can be thinking about things before time,” Jackson says. Her emails vary from job and internship opportunities to daily challenging MCAT and DAT test-prep questions and reminders of events.
On the opposite end, Jackson often gets up to 15 to 20 emails within 30 minutes and keeps a handy list of links and responses to some of the repeat questions she receives.
Despite her dedication to helping students find success in pre-health careers, Jackson herself is a history person. She got her bachelor’s in history and economics from the CUNY Graduate Center, and a master’s in history from Brooklyn College.
“I’m CUNY all the way,” she says proudly. She believes that’s what places her in a unique position to give students what they need. “I know what I didn’t get so I understand what the students would need,” she states, thinking back to her time in undergrad.
After graduating Jackson first worked six years as an Allied Health Advisor and academic advisor at New York City College of Technology. She then joined Hunter College as a pre-health advising coordinator and since then has brought a new addition to the program with each semester.
Many pre-health students that have gotten to know Jackson have grown to love, admire, and respect her. However, students who have yet to muster up the courage to speak with Jackson often feel, in stark contrast, intimidated and afraid of her.
“I think it’s because I say things as they are,” Jackson said in response to why students may have heard she is tough.
Some students come for her guidance very late in the process and expect quick results. However, Jackson feels its unfair to give to students who have spent their time and efforts on building a relationship the same as someone who hasn’t. Nonetheless, she says, “I don’t like giving up on people, but I do expect them to make an effort to help themselves.”
She says she’s, “attracted to helping others succeed.” Jackson repeated several times that she just wished students would understand that along with the rest of the pre-health department, she is there to help them. She encourages students to drop by even if they need to talk on a rough day.
Jackson has her share of rough days as well. When she does, she looks through the thank you cards she has received over the years, often finding tears in her eyes as she remembers those students. “It reminds me why I am doing this,” she says.
Although she has only been doing this for the past three years, she says she can see herself doing this for the rest of her life. “Or at least until retirement,” she said with a laugh. It’s been a ride full of tears, joy, and fulfillment for Jackson despite the many sleepless nights she has thinking about how to help her students.