Native Haitian wins coveted scholarship

Mackjeannie Joseph, 17, has been announced as a winner of the prestigious QuestBridge scholarship that connects high-achieving students with some of the country’s best schools. Joseph will be attending Colby College, a top-ranked liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine. (Greg Smith/The Day)
Mackjeannie Joseph, 17, has been announced as a winner of the prestigious QuestBridge scholarship that connects high-achieving students with some of the country’s best schools. Joseph will be attending Colby College, a top-ranked liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine. (Greg Smith/The Day)

Just seven years ago, 17-year-old New London High School graduate Mackjeannie Joseph was sleeping with her family outside in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with an uncertain future.

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake and a series of aftershocks that leveled homes and businesses, killed more than 100,000 people and led to a major humanitarian crisis.

Joseph was 10 years when the earthquake uprooted her family – her single mother and two siblings — and led to a series of moves that would take her to the Dominican Republic, Florida, Massachusetts and finally to New London in 2015.

This month, against the odds, Joseph is making yet another move, this time to Maine to get a head start on the upcoming semester at Colby College, among the nation’s most prestigious liberal arts colleges.

She smiles and shrugs when asked about her journey from Haiti that has led to a path of fulfilling her dream to become a doctor.

“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a pediatrician, which is what I will be going to school for,” she said.

Her family is not wealthy, and Joseph said she knew it would be tough to get into school without some serious help. She stuck to her studies and credits her mother, Jeanne Flamand, with maintaining confidence and optimism that she would find a way.

It was in December that Joseph first learned that her four years at Colby, $70,000 in the first year alone, would be fully paid for through the QuestBridge scholarship program that connects high achieving students from low-income backgrounds with some of the country’s best schools.

Joseph now holds the distinction of being New London High School’s first QuestBridge Scholar and something of a model for other students.

The scholarship was the result of her work with the local non-profit Higher Edge, which has a contract with the school and works with many first-generation students in pursuit of a college degree.

Joseph said she nearly gave up on the application because it was so involved.

“There is so much work. I thought, ‘I’m not even going to get it. Why waste my time,’” she said. “I didn’t even talk about it. I barely thought about it because I thought it was such a long shot.”

Even after she was selected among finalists in October, Joseph said she still was not convinced she had a chance.

But on Dec. 1, when notifications on scholarship winner were to be announced, she found herself on edge because of the potentially life changing news that would be arriving in her in box. She left school early to wait for the 4 p.m. email.

When she saw the “congratulations,” in the email she started screaming without even seeing what school she would be attending.

The QuestBridge application had included Joseph’s top ranked school choices because it is the school that chooses the student. Colby was No. 4 on her list, chosen because of the curriculum but also close proximity. She did not want to be too far from family.

On June 26, Joseph was expected to start lab work for the upcoming semester. She said she is considering a major in biology, something that will give her a strong foundation for medical school.

New London High School guidance counselor Kasi Fletcher said Joseph’s achievement was not a total surprise considering her hard work, determination and ability to “keep her eye on the prize.”

New London High School Principal William “Tommy” Thompson said the feat of achieving the QuestBridge Scholarship was impressive considering the small percentage of applicants that are accepted. Two years ago, 13,264 people applied for QuestBridge’s National College Match program and just 657 were chosen.

“It shows you the type of quality person she is,” Thompson said.

In addition to her academic performance at school, Joseph also played volleyball and tennis and volunteered at the local soup kitchen and Public Library of New London. She also speaks four languages – French, Haitian Creole, Spanish and English, a side effect of living in three different countries. Thompson said Joseph is also the type of person who lights up the room when she walks in, with a “great personality, smile and intellect to match.”

Higher Edge founder and executive director Chris Soto, a state representative representing New London, said Joseph is a rare student: humble and focused.

Soto said he recently welcomed a new group of students to Higher Edge and one of them has already asked about the QuestBridge Scholarship.

“This was the highlight of my week,” Soto said. “Clearly she had shared that experience with her friends.”

g.smith@theday.com

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