DANBURY, CONN. — By the time she was 7 years old, Jessica Lin had lived in Manhattan and Fuzhou in China’s Fujian province. But the 2011 graduate of New Milford High School says it wasn’t until she arrived at Western Connecticut State University as a freshman that she began to see, understand and experience the world.
For many years, Lin’s “world” had a very small diameter. The eldest of five children, her parents depended upon her to help them run their restaurant, Oriental House, in New Milford. With her time divided between her strenuous AP course load in high school and her obligation to her family, Lin had little time to participate in clubs or socialize with classmates. When senior year arrived and it was time to consider college, Lin had a 3.71 GPA, few extracurricular activities and a need to stay close to home so she could continue contributing to the family business.
“In high school, it was hard to get involved — especially since I didn’t get a car until my senior year,” Lin says. “My parents worked 10 or more hours a day at the restaurant, so they didn’t have the free time to take me places. I made friends in my classes but did not have the opportunity to participate in activities with them. My family has a huge reliance on me, so I really only knew my house and my school; the outside world was unknown.”
When it came time to pick a college, the proximity to her home and affordability provided an obvious choice: Western.
“The first semester of my freshman year at Western, I was still the ‘old me,’” Lin says. “I had been so sheltered that I was afraid to try new things and worried about being in a new place.”
That quickly changed when she was accepted into the University Honors Program. Perhaps as important as the Merit Scholarship she received, which paid her entire tuition in full, was the confidence it instilled. “WCSU believed in me,” she says. “I met colleagues, staff and faculty who not only believed in me, but constantly helped and encouraged me to be someone better.”
The Honors Program required a lot of work on Lin’s part, which took her away from the restaurant. By the second semester of her freshman year, she started taking Honors courses focusing on topics like Greece and Turkey, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who was coming to campus. She took part in planning events relating to the Dalai Lama’s visit, such as a “Compassion in Motion” dance performance and was forced to come out of her shell as she visited multiple campus offices to figure out how to orchestrate a campus event.
“I was taking seven classes at the time and it was a lot to handle,” Lin recalls. “I made mistakes, but I learned a lot. “You have to be willing to make mistakes to live a life. It might be embarrassing, but it makes for great stories.”
The once-sheltered young woman became involved in the campus Social Sciences Journal as treasurer/associate editor and more recently, president/editor. She was hired as one of the student assistants for the Honors Program and helped to reinstate the Honors Student Organization on campus, creating a constitution and becoming the treasurer for the organization. Lin is a note-taker for Western’s AccessAbility Services. She’s frequently carried as many as 21 credit hours a semester and fulfilled Honors requirements, while also working a part-time job at the Danbury Fair mall.
Along the way, she’s racked up a lot of accomplishments and awards, including the John V. Friel Scholarship, given to the student who best exemplifies the two qualities that marked Friel’s life — a zest for learning and commitment to helping others; the Arthur and Alberta Rosien Memorial Scholarship for political science majors; the Student Government Association Merit Award; and the first Jesse Lewis Compassion Award. Most recently, she was named the 2014 Presidential Scholar by WCSU President James W. Schmotter.
“I feel in many ways that I am blessed,” Lin says. “I am one of many students who needs financial help and awards to attend college. I never expected any of these awards to be given to me — there are a lot of hardships in life that students have to go through and I am not that different from anyone else.”
Perhaps the best reward is the bet Lin made with her father, who was reluctant to lift her 2:30 p.m. curfew to allow her to attend night classes at Western. She told him that she planned to obtain a 4.0 every semester at Western and for each 4.0 he would have to pay her $200. She only missed her 4.0 goal once — earning an A- in microeconomics one semester — but her father let it go and she’s collected $1,200 so far, which is being saved to fund her graduate school aspirations.
“I came to Western knowing I wanted to help people, but my knowledge of how to help people was very limited,” Lin says. “I was interested in political science but I didn’t understand then that it’s not all about politics and politicians — it’s really necessary when trying to learn to communicate with others.”
As a result, Lin will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and dual minors in Conflict Resolution and Psychology. After a year off to catch her breath, she plans to apply to graduate school at Yale to obtain a master’s in Public Administration or Public Health. Thanks to her experiences at Western, Lin says, “I feel confident enough about myself now to approach it.”
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.