Jamaican Malika Allen, 22, will begin studying for a Ph.D. in neuroscience in the United States in August 2022. It is not surprising that Allen will pursue an advanced education, but what is remarkable is how she overcame serious financial challenges and other obstacles to achieve success.
Allen’s childhood was spent in Meadowbrook, St. Andrew, where she was a great reader and played netball. Her parents ran a business in Coronation Market, and she went there before and after school every day. After her father passed away, she stayed overnight with her mother and older sister at the market, helping her mother with the selling and getting her lunch money there every morning before going to school. She remembers that at one time there was not enough money to pay the family’s utility bills, but she did not let this get in her way. Allen would try to finish her homework before it got dark, and when she couldn’t do that, she would use the illumination from the streetlight shining on their veranda to do her work.
When her graduation neared, and she discovered that students who had outstanding fees would not be permitted to participate in the celebration, she contacted the principal and received permission to walk across the platform, if only to receive an empty certificate canister. After her graduation from high school, Allen received a partial scholarship to attend Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, but a hold was placed on her account each semester due to outstanding balances. Sometimes, she was unable to register for classes, but her biggest challenge was to take a leave of absence of several months due to outstanding fees. During this period, she went back to Jamaica, thinking it was the end of her educational dreams. She applied, unsuccessfully, for jobs, and then applied, unsuccessfully, for scholarships. She was denied loans and became very depressed, not even wanting to leave her house.
However, her strong academic performance brought her a scholarship for full tuition after returning from her leave of absence. Her family and her bishop helped with housing costs and miscellaneous fees. Before she returned to school, Allen made a plan of all the classes she needed to graduate on her own schedule, made it a goal to do research internships and more work in the research lab. She stuck to the plan with the help of prayer and made up the semester she had lost. She also found time to be an active member of the Diversity and Inclusion Board of Students and a tutor at the Academic Resource Center.
Allen graduated summa cum laude in May 2022 with a BA in neuroscience and psychology. She cites the support of her mother and sisters for helping her achieve her academic goals. Her older sister kept her motivated, she added, reminding her that she has a greater purpose in life and that her setbacks and experiences are just “valleys” she must pass through on her life’s journey.
After graduation in May she posted on twitter “Closing one chapter. Beginning the other. PhD in Neuroscience here I come.”
Photo – Malika Allen