The Class of 2015: First generation student Jamaica Sykes helped unite a divided organization
Throughout her years at Virginia Tech, Jamaica Sykes of Portsmouth, Virginia, a senior majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has worked her way around campus.
She’s been in meetings in Burruss with the Commission on Student Affairs and in the Student Success Center as a peer mentor.
She could be found in countless labs doing research on traumatic brain injuries or prostate cancer, meeting with international students for a few hours a week to help them learn English, or in the Child Development Center, helping toddlers reach developmental milestones.
But Sykes’ impact is most pronounced through her commitment to the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), one of four councils within Fraternity and Sorority Life. When Sykes, a member of the Mu Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., began her term as president of NPHC in the fall of 2014, she inherited an organization that was riddled by rifts and competition, relied on outdated traditions, and was having a hard time with the academic requirements.
“Jamaica’s commitment to progressive changes within the NPHC has helped the council move beyond the mindset of what’s always been done to the thought of what can we do to be better,” said Tavianna Williams, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
Through her leadership, the NPHC began the process of reshaping their council to focus on the support of one another. Sykes facilitated constructive conversations by asking thought-provoking questions of leaders, which spurred positive change. Dedicated to philanthropic work, the primary purpose and focus of NPHC is community awareness and action through educational, economic, and cultural service activities. Sykes’ work has not only refocused the organization on its founding principles, but she encourages recognition of successes to celebrate in each other’s achievements.
“Our organizations were created during a time when support was a necessity for African-Americans, so we try to keep that tradition around by supporting one another in all that we do,” said Sykes.
As a first generation college student, making it to Blacksburg was a success in itself, but Sykes recently experienced the heartbreaking death of her mother. However, she hopes to use this experience to better the world around her.
Sykes plans to attend medical school to study pediatrics. She also wants to start a non-profit for children with mentally ill parents. She said that she’s learned from her own experience that these children need guidance, financial support, and counseling. She wants to alleviate those additional barriers and prevent young people from going through what she went through.
“Jamaica’s resume is impressive, but beyond what’s on paper, Jamaica is one of the strongest, most generous, kindest women I know,” said Williams.
Sykes served as a host for Virginia Tech Gateway, an orientation experience for underrepresented students. She is secretary of the Commission on Student Affairs, vice president of her sorority, a member of the Order of the Gavel, and was named Sorority Outstanding New Member of the Year for 2013-14. In addition, Sykes was one of the first recipients of the Virginia Tech Black Alumni Scholarship.
Written by Holly Paulette.