Generosity is key for one student who went from homelessness to honor society membership. Jessica Davis, who has a double major in dental hygiene and global studies, intends to work for an international health non-profit. She plans to graduate from Northampton Community College (NCC) in August 2021. She has been accepted to bachelor’s degree programs at Pennsylvania College of Technology and East Stroudsburg University but has not decided which school to attend. She is also a semi-finalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship. 

Hard-won life experience helped her develop a generous leadership style.

“She is a determined young woman, and I know she will achieve whatever she sets her mind to.”

Xenia Harley, KEYS facilitator

“Whether the project was a solo assignment or group effort, it was not uncommon for Jessica to be the one in her group to guide her classmates and encourage them to excel. Jessica is a model student and I describe her as a servant leader because she never came across dictatorial but rather as helpful and inspirational,” said Sonia E. Massie, assistant professor of biology, who taught Davis.

Now a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Davis recalls staying with a patchwork of family and friends and living with her young child in her Ford Escape before it was repossessed. After more than four years in stable housing, Davis feels deep gratitude to the family, friends and boyfriend who helped her gain her footing. She wants to role model thankfulness for her son, Corbin, now 5.

“It’s really important to me that he understands that he’s very lucky to have everything he has,” Davis said. The preschooler receives support from an occupational therapist and a therapeutic support staffer. Davis hopes to instill in him a broad worldview, self-forgiveness, and kindness to others. She participates in the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) program that funds childcare and transportation for students with demonstrated financial need.

“She is a determined young woman, and I know she will achieve whatever she sets her mind to. She is also a very likeable, outgoing person which will serve her well in her endeavors,” said Xenia Harley, a KEYS facilitator who has known Davis for several years.

Jessica Davis/Photo Scott Johnson

This year, Davis earned the Ruth and Roger Dunning Scholarship Endowment and the James Knicos Endowed Scholarship. By contrast, she remembers a guidance counselor in her New Jersey high school advising her to drop out and apply for a general educational development (GED) program. Davis, a neurodiverse student who deals with bipolar disorder II, recalls feeling bored in high school and lacking confidence in her scholastic abilities. An English I course at NCC helped develop Davis’ confidence that she could communicate her ideas effectively. Living with bipolar disorder prompts Davis to excel academically and to set ambitious goals.

“I want to prove that someone with my mental illness can contribute,” Davis said. Her stepmother, a retired dental hygienist who travels to Haiti to volunteer, inspired Davis’ choice of majors.

As a member of NCC’s Psi Beta Psychology Honors Club, Davis completed two three-hour certification programs in mental health first aid. She learned to assist people with suicidal thoughts using the Question, Persuade, Refer method. She and other QPR-certified students wear special lanyards on campus to signify that people in crisis can approach them to talk about suicidality. Davis used her training to assist a despairing friend who had graduated from nursing studies but feared they could not pass the National Council Licensure Exam required to start practicing. Davis sat with the person while they called a suicide hotline and made follow-up mental healthcare appointments.

Davis’ professor expects the same commitment to care to follow her throughout her career.

“Jessica routinely demonstrates the desire for increased access to dental care and equality for all. This attribute will allow her to thrive in a practice setting. She treats her patients with patience, empathy and most importantly respect and kindness,” said Kate Karalunas, dental hygiene professor, who taught Davis.