The Jackson sisters came together for Martina's May 2014 graduation from NJIT. From left to right are Vincia, Martina, and Marie.
For some students, NJIT is more than a college: It's a family affair. And NJIT has been that for the Jackson sisters -- Marie, Martina and Vincia – all of whom found a home, and an avenue to success, at NJIT.
Marie Jackson graduated in 2005 and recently opened a dental practice, the Stellar Smile Center, in Montclair.
Martina graduated in May and has begun veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top vet schools in the nation.
And Vincia is a senior who has interned at two major companies -- Clorox and Hormel Foods -- has a prestigious national scholarship and has done pioneering research at NJIT.
All three sisters belong to NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which helps minority and low-income students excel in college. Marie and Martina were also scholars in the Albert Dorman Honors College, which attracts some of the brightest students in the nation.
Here is a brief profile of each sister.
Marie was an engineering science major who was also in the accelerated dental program run by the Honors College. That means she did three years at NJIT and four at what is now called the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. After dental school, she worked as an associate at a dental practice for a few years before opening the Stellar Smile Center in January. She’s a general dentist -- a family dentist -- and she loves her job.
“I love to work with people, my patients, and I like to work with my hands, so this is the perfect job for me,” says Marie.
But her job now is more than dentistry. She also runs a small business. She has been working day and night to establish her practice, teaching herself how to run a business while remaining focused on her patients. And since her office is close to campus, many of her patients are from NJIT.
“I've been fortunate in receiving support from the NJIT community, especially EOP alumni, since starting my practice in Montclair. Former classmates have spread the word of Stellar Smile Center, supported me on social media, and most importantly have entrusted me with their dental care by becoming my patients.”
Since graduating, Marie has maintained ties with NJIT. Each summer, she returns to campus to talk to incoming EOP students about her career. She also talks about dentistry to students who attend NJIT’s pre-college programs.
“Just because you’re a dentist doesn’t mean you have to be a nerd, or be corny or look like a mad scientist – that’s what I tell the students,” says Marie. “I also tell them there were times when I hated to study. But they must remember what studying can do for them. It can create a foundation for a successful career.”
Marie is also grateful to NJIT for helping her build a successful career. The scholarship she received from the Honors College, she says, was a “huge help” in that it allowed her to graduate with no debt. That helped her save up and buy her own practice.
But she’s most thankful to EOP, which gave her the academic and social support she needed to graduate. If NJIT is a family affair for the Jackson sisters, then EOP is the heart and soul of the family.
“My two sisters and my parents of course use me as their dentist because they are family,” Marie says. “But my fellow EOP grads also come to my office because they, too, are family.”
Ever since she was a child, Martina loved animals. As a little girl, she had a passel of pets that included iguanas, hamsters, mice, chickens and a philosophical frog named Aristotle.
At NJIT, she considered studying engineering and also pre-med, but soon realized she had to follow her heart. So she majored in biology and set her sights on vet school. In her free time, she volunteered as a docent on weekends at the Turtle Back Zoo. And she also shadowed two veterinarians, one near her home in South Brunswick and another close to campus. She even helped one vet surgically remove a dog’s spleen.
“I held the warm spleen in my hand for a moment, and I saw some blood – it was my first experience in animal surgery,” says Martina, whose wide smile never seems to flag. “After that I knew that I could be a vet, and that I could help animals, which I love to do.”
In school, she took animal biology classes and assisted a bioology professor who does research on electric fish. She also took a graduate course where she studied cancers in canine and Tasmanian devil populations. She found her passion and excelled.
And like her sister Marie, she had the support of both the Honors College and EOP, whose advisers helped her learn as much as she could about animal biology and research as well as veterinary medicine.
By the time she was a senior, Martina’s resume of accomplishments was such that she was accepted into all of the seven vet schools she applied to, a list that included Cornell, Purdue, Tufts, Ohio State and the University of Pennsylvania, where she is now a first-year student.
She, too, is grateful to the Honors College for its financial support and to the EOP for its academic support, especially in math, her weakest subject.
“Going through EOP’s academic boot camp is like hell,” says Martina, smiling, “but once you finish you have a bond with your fellow students, and that bond helps you succeed at NJIT and afterward. And now, at vet school, I’ll be able to focus on what I want to learn and what I love to study, so I’m very excited.”
Vincia is a senior at NJIT but she’s not on campus. Rather, she’s living in Rochelle, Illinois, and working for Rochelle Foods, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods. It’s a six-month co-op job through which she gets job experience, college credits and a salary.
Vincia misses her sisters, and her parents, but she loves her job.
“I am fully enjoying the experience that I am gaining from Rochelle Foods,” she says. “It is so exciting to see our products being manufactured at the plant. When I, for instance, see microwavable Hormel bacon in stores, I feel a sense of pride, because at the plant where I work, we manufacture the bacon.”
Two years ago, Vincia did an internship at Clorox in Pleasanton, Calif., where she helped the company comply with environmental regulations. She learned a lot and a year later wanted to find a second internship.
So in the fall of 2013, she began applying online to a variety of companies. One night, sitting in her dorm, she couldn’t think other companies to apply to. So she started scanning the labels of everything that was around her. Her eyes, fortuitously, fell on one of her favorite foods.
“I was holding a can of Hormel chili that I purchased from the C-store,” recalls Vincia, who majors in chemical engineering. “I then navigated through the Hormel website and found a tab for intern applications. I applied and about a month later I had a phone interview and then a flight booked to the Hormel headquarters in Austin, Minnesota. A week later, I received the offer.”
She works as a plant maintenance supervisor intern, which means she helps manage the plant’s mechanical processes. Her apartment in Rochelle is walking distance from the Hormel plant and the company pays for her housing.
“A lot of my job is spent on the floor troubleshooting mechanical processes,” she says. “The goal is to make sure everything in the plant is working properly.”
Vincia also has done important research at NJIT. When she was a sophomore, she was awarded The Robert Sydney Needham Memorial STEM Scholarship, an award that supports NJIT students who study science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). The $38,000 scholarship includes a research stipend, which allowed her to assist a researcher who studies how to mass-produce alloys. She helped to develop a computer model for a mechanical alloying process.
Vincia is among NJIT’s most engaged students. She was member of the NJIT Women’s Track Team and is Co-Vice President of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She was also Secretary of Phi Eta Sigma, a national honors society. Through the Ambassador program of the Murray Center for Women in Technology, she mentors freshmen women students. She’s also a McNair scholar, a program that prepares underrepresented students for doctoral study; and she of course belongs to EOP, the family within a family for the Jackson three.
“NJIT has given me and my sisters so my opportunities to succeed that we are so grateful for,” says Vincia. “I know when I graduate next semester that I’ll be in a position to get a great job, since companies look for work experience and research experience, and I have both. My sister Marie loves being a dentist and Martina loves vet school. So we three are good to go, thanks to NJIT."