For Jonathan “J-Jay” Jonassaint, ’22, every day at La Salle University is an opportunity to achieve.
The Reading, Pa., native overcame periods of financial and housing instability in order to graduate this May with a chemistry degree and aspirations of medical school.
As a teen, Jonassaint’s mother suffered irreversible nerve damage in her left knee. With his mother unable to work, Jonassaint’s family lost their home and experienced a period of housing insecurity. With La Salle’s proximity to home, he could remain his mother’s primary caregiver. But Jonassaint often says the University accepted him as much as he accepted it. Choosing La Salle made sense for Jonassaint.
“I always say that La Salle chose me because there would have been no other university as accommodating to a student and their financial limitations,” he said.
“J-Jay found a home in our hearts and as a leader in the classroom.”
— William Price, Ph.D.
Professor and chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Finances were Jonassaint’s biggest hurdle. So much so, he often thought he couldn’t continue his education. However, through transparency with faculty, he completed his courses on time.
Chemistry and biochemistry professor and chair William Price, Ph.D., and biology assistant professor James Church, Ph.D., were the first to learn of Jonassaint’s financial challenges, he said. With faculty support and guidance, Jonassaint was guided toward various scholarship and grant opportunities.
“There were times when J-Jay wasn’t sure where his next meal was coming from or where he would sleep that night,” Price said. “At La Salle, we embrace all who seek an education and J-Jay found a home in our hearts and as a leader in the classroom. To a significant extent, we were his safety net and support system. I sought a variety of sources of funding for tuition and he has paid us back many times over as a role model to others in similar circumstances and as an ambassador for La Salle and the Department of Chemistry.”
The support from his professors empowered Jonassaint to be the best student he could be.
“It is very clear that J-Jay cherishes the opportunity to attend college and is already looking forward to achieving at the next level,” Price said. “Although talent is often equally distributed throughout humankind, opportunity almost never is. He has gotten as far as he has due to his grit, fierce determination, and intelligence. He has an amazing outgoing personality, contagious smile and is always thinking of the needs of others. Indeed, he brightens up the floor every time he steps into the department. If you met him, you would never know what he is going through.”
“I’m offered the opportunity to be here, (so) I’m going to make the most of it,” Jonassaint added.
Assistant Vice President of Student Wellness R. Scott Cook, D.O., was another mentor for Jonassaint, who shadowed Cook’s management of La Salle’s COVID-19 testing center.
“He has been a pivotal component to all the clinical experience I have gained so far,” Jonassaint said. “He also is a great human being that practices active listening so our conversations from downtime in the COVID testing center have turned very spiritual and thought provoking. This man has given me hope that one day I can embody the role he currently serves as a sports medicine physician.”
“I believe that La Salle provides students with an education that goes far beyond a strong core science foundation by providing students various opportunities for self-reflection, growth, and development that is so essential to future success in healthcare fields,” Cook added.
Jonassaint pursued a degree in chemistry to achieve his dream of becoming a sports medicine physician. His interest in the field grew more, he said, as he took care of his mother. He related to the course material—somewhat of a real-life application of caring for someone he calls his “first patient.”
Always aspiring to improve his mother’s quality of life, Jonassaint will continue caring for her as he applies for medical school following graduation from La Salle.
“Graduating, for me, means I overcame the stressors in my environment that were placed there to derail me,” he said. “Not letting the circumstances affect the conclusion is gratifying. I also know that graduation is one of the many accomplishments along the way toward the overall end goal of becoming a physician.”
— Meg Ryan