If you’ve spent any time at Malcolm X College, there’s a good chance you have met Josalyn Harper, also known as Joi.

The name fits her well. Joi is the Student Government Association (SGA) President at Malcolm X College, and she’s known for her positive attitude and for always greeting students and staff with a smile and a, “Hey Queen!” or “Hey King!”

The North Sider has been attending Malcolm X since 2015 but just recently became more involved on campus. She’s already earned her certificate in Medical Assisting from the college, as well as an Associate in Science in 2018. Now, she’s in the Surgical Technology program, working toward her Associate in Applied Science.

All of this hard work is only moving Joi closer to her dream of becoming a surgeon. It’s something she’s wanted to do ever since learning about the human body in preschool. Additionally, as the first nurse in Joi’s family, her great-great-grandmother has also been an inspiration.

“She was the one that told me, ‘Don’t doubt yourself. If you want to be a doctor, go be a doctor,’” Joi said. “Every time I have doubts or those negative thoughts, I hear her voice in my head.”

SGA keeps Joi busy. She plans student events and takes time out of her day to talk to students on campus. Most of all, she enjoys telling students about the services available to them, including the ones she uses herself like the free food pantry, the Tutoring Center, and the Wellness Center.

“In 2015, I had a really dark moment, and the Wellness Center saved my life,” Joi shared. “If you’re going to do anything, please go to the Wellness Center… We all have hard days, and you just never know what someone else is going through.”

After completing courses at Malcolm X, Joi wants to transfer to either UIC or DePaul to study chemistry. The Department of Defense STEM (DoD STEM) program at Malcolm X is helping her prepare to achieve that goal. DoD STEM is a cohort of women of color at the college who are working towards an associate degree and have an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, aims to increase the number of women in the STEM fields, a group that historically has been underrepresented.

All the DoD STEM participants have the chance to participate in research. For her part, Joi studied the disparities women ages 21 to 80 in different Chicago counties face when it comes to healthcare. It was a project that was close to her heart, having experienced complications herself when giving birth to her daughter.

“I just want to make sure the moms, babies, and dads are all healthy and actually listened to. I want to make sure they have a set plan for their delivery,” Joi said.

The DoD STEM program has also allowed Joi to connect with other women who are similarly interested in a STEM career. She’s both encouraged them and been encouraged by them.

“I had one student who told me how she was having a hard time going back and forth from school, so I told her to talk to her advisor first before you drop any classes because you don’t want to mess with your financial aid,” Joi explained. “I talked to another student about tutoring because she was like, ‘I don’t understand this information.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s go upstairs together and let’s go book you a tutor.’”

A Malcolm X College education is not only impacting Joi, but it’s having an effect on her whole family. It’s allowing her to be a role model for her 11-year-old daughter, and Joi’s mom now wants to go back to school, too. As for Joi, she’s already thinking about how Malcolm X can help her and her patients in the future.

“I am going to be a surgeon in the hospital where I have my own team to stop disparities,” she said. “Being a fetal surgeon is proving to my younger self that I did accomplish my aspiration.”

While Joi is extremely grateful for the education she’s received at the college, she’s also grateful for the things she’s learned outside of the classroom. She had to be persistent in her pursuit to join DoD STEM  and has gained the confidence to talk to new people as SGA president. These two traits have opened up so many opportunities for Joi at Malcolm X, and she can’t wait to see what doors they open up next.

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