Whetchina Jean emigrated from Haiti to the United States in 2009, a year after her mother left their home country to jumpstart her family’s new life in Florida.
Jean excelled in school and started taking dual enrollment classes at Polk State College in 2014 when she was a sophomore in high school. By her senior year, she had already completed all the requirements for her diploma, so she became an early admissions student and increased her college course load. She graduated from Lake Region High School in 2016 and by 2017, she completed her Polk State Associate in Arts degree.
This semester, she will receive her Polk State Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management with a concentration in Healthcare Administration.
“My advice to students is to never forget the reason why you started – that will help you keep going,” Jean said. “When I would struggle in one of my classes, my mom would always offer to help. Even if she couldn’t help, her offering would remind me of the reason why I started and why I wasn’t going to give up.”
That reason is twofold. Jean is driven to help others, as her mother has always been. She also wants to honor her mother for her sacrifices, which have afforded her and her siblings many opportunities. As the first generation in her family to graduate from college and with plans to enter the healthcare field, Jean continues to make her mother proud.
She explained the challenges of emigrating to the U.S.
“My advice to students is to never forget the reason why you started – that will help you keep going.”
“The immigration process is complicated. Families will send a strong family member first to establish residency and file for children,” Jean said. “My mother worked hard and made sacrifices to create a better future for me and my siblings.”
A year apart for 10-year-old Jean, a self-proclaimed “mommy’s girl,” was difficult, but their strong family ties made it easier.
When she was in high school, a guidance counselor noticed Jean’s advanced level of learning and suggested that she consider dual enrollment at the College. Through dual enrollment and early admission, Polk County high school students can earn college credits at no cost to them.
“At first college seemed scary, but when I came to campus, I realized it wasn’t as hectic as I thought it would be,” she said.
When she enrolled as a full-time Polk State student, she started to take advantage of more opportunities at the College, including the Student Activities and Leadership Office (SALO) and Student Government Association (SGA).
“I wanted to get the full college experience,” she added.
And she has. Jean served as Winter Haven SGA Secretary and traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for students at the state level. She has also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from U.S. Congress.
She also served as a work-study student in the Admissions Office, where she was able to help students with the admissions and registration process.
Most recently, she played an instrumental role in launching SALO’s Virtual Student Center to keep her peers engaged in the online learning environment through the COVID-19 crisis.
“The COVID-19 situation has taught me to always be prepared and that is something I have learned in my courses such as risk management,” Jean said. “In the healthcare setting, we must have an emergency plan in place. Yes, it is scary, but if we are taking the right precautions, we will make it through.”
She added that the public health emergency hasn’t deterred her from a career in the medical field.
“It’s actually the opposite. It has been more of a motivator for me to want to be part of helping others and providing people with a sense of hope,” she said.
“My ultimate goal is to help bring the best care to patients. My education from Polk State will allow me to do that and has given me the foundation I need.”
Before COVID-19, Jean was applying for internships, but they have since been canceled or postponed due to the public health emergency.
She hopes to secure an internship that she can participate in while pursuing a master’s degree in business with a minor in French. She is looking at graduate programs at the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida.
She aspires to one day manage a small healthcare clinic or to become part of a hospital team.
“My ultimate goal is to help bring the best care to patients,” she said. “My education from Polk State will allow me to do that and has given me the foundation I need.”